Wildlife protection officials in New Zealand shot 33 whales after the creatures beached themselves and could not be saved.
The long-finned pilot whales were among 99 that initially became stranded on the South Island on Monday. Volunteers were able to guide them back out to sea on Wednesday. But they beached themselves again a day later and officials determined they had to be put down, according to television station TVNZ.
Department of Conservation area manager John Mason says staff and hundreds of volunteers had tried all week to get the whales refloated. Mason said observers noted the whales' condition had significantly deteriorated after they rebeached themselves.
Whales were beached for as long as 48 hours before being refloated. They had gotten as far as two miles from shore before apparently turning back.
In addition to the 33 whales that were shot, 36 had died naturally since Monday and 17 were successfully refloated. Thirteen remain unaccounted for.
Pilot whales grow to about 20 feet, and large strandings are common in New Zealand. Farewell Spit, where the latest beachings occurred, is seen by animal experts as treacherous to whales because its shallow waters seem to confuse them.