Rescuers battle to save beached whales, as tide rises

INVERCARGILL, New Zealand - Conservationists battled Friday to save 30 pilot whales stranded on a New Zealand beach and tried to prevent dozens more from coming ashore.

Twelve whales died despite rescuers' attempts to save them after two English biologists walking in the remote area discovered the mass beaching late Thursday.

Rescuers used inflatable dinghies to circle the whales in an effort to lure them back out to sea, but part of the pod swam back onto Maori Beach on Stewart Island, 20 miles south of New Zealand's South Island.

Another 60 whales remained about a mile off the beach, Department of Conservation spokesman Tom O'Connor said.

Dozens of volunteers joined trained whale rescuers in the effort to save the whales, as the tide in the area turned and began to rise toward a midday peak.

When the first rescue team arrived, six whales were already dead.

The distressed stranded whales were attracting the others back into shore, said Department of Conservation officer Chris Visser of Stewart Island.

''The worst part was when the others were coming back in,'' Visser said.

Conservation staff said there was no history of whales beaching themselves on Maori Beach.

Two years ago, 288 whales died after beaching themselves at isolated Doughboy Bay on Stewart Island's southeast coast.

The last 40 of the 288 long-finned pilot whales were shot on Oct. 29, 1998, after devastated rescuers realized they could do nothing to save the mammals.

It's not clear why whales beach themselves, but mass beachings occur every year.

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