Hundreds of whales dead on New Zealand beach after mass stranding

Over 400 pilot whales have beached themselves on a New Zealand shore in what is considered the largest mass stranding in decades.

Hundreds of whales died overnight, and rescuers are now working to save the dozens of creatures who are still clinging to life on the shore, according to New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC).

When the DOC arrived at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay, they found that 416 whales had beached themselves. By Friday morning, more than 70 percent of the whales were dead.

The DOC staff reached out to the local community for volunteers, towels, buckets and sheets. Workers on the scene are now scrambling to save the remaining 80 to 90 whales.

"It is one of the saddest things I have seen, that many sentient creatures just wasted on the beach," volunteer rescuer Peter Wiles told The Guardian.

Some volunteers worked upwards of nine hours straight, and more volunteers will be needed on Saturday when the tide comes in.

Many of the whales that were forced out to sea have re-beached themselves. According to Gizmodo, the social animals like to stay close to their pod -- and tragically, many of their former pod members are lying dead on the beach.

"We are trying to swim the whales out to sea and guide them but they don't really take directions, they go where they want to go," said DOC team leader told The Guardian.

"Unless they get a couple of strong leaders who decide to head out to sea, the remaining whales will try and keep with their pod on the beach."

About 300 whales and dolphins beach themselves on New Zealand's shorelines each year, especially in the Golden Bay area, since it is so shallow. It's difficult for whales to return to deeper waters once they have entered.

It's possible that at this instant, an entire group of whales beached themselves after one single whale got sick, injured or stranded. Their social bonds are so strong, pod-mates will always swim to the aid of others.

A lack of communication could have also led to this disaster. Whales have a hard time using echolocation in shallow, sloping waters like those in Golden Bay.

See photos from this tragedy:

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Hundreds of whales dead on New Zealand beach after mass stranding
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Hundreds of whales dead on New Zealand beach after mass stranding
Volunteers attend to some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales still alive after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers attend to some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales still alive after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers attend to some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales still alive after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales marked with an 'X' to indicate they have died can be seen together after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales marked with an 'X' to indicate they have died can be seen together after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales marked with an 'X' to indicate they have died can be seen together after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers attend to some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales still alive after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers attend to some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales still alive, as one lies on a sandbank marked with an 'X' to indicate it has died, after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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