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18 re-floated whales swim off

Jan. 7, 2012 at 10:51 PM

COLLINGWOOD, New Zealand, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- A pod of 18 pilot whales, maneuvered back to sea with some human help after beaching themselves in New Zealand, appear to have swum off, their rescuers said.

Conservation Department staff and Project Jonah members said Sunday the long-finned pilot whales were re-floated Saturday after stranding themselves on Farewell Spit at Golden Bay Friday afternoon. Seven other whales died, however.

"The whales gave us a few nervous hours as we watched them regain stability and then finally head out to sea," Project Jonah chief executive Kimberly Muncaster told TVNZ.

"Several times they headed back toward the shore but we shepherded them out toward open ocean with our boats until they finally swam away.

Muncaster said it was still possible the pod might veer back to shore. Pilot whales are known to strand themselves on New Zealand shore, particularly from November through March, TVNZ said.

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