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More than 170 pilot whales stranded on New Zealand beach; at least 24 others die

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(CNN) — Conservationists are racing to try to save more than 170 whales stranded on a remote beach on New Zealand’s South Island.

Twenty-four of the 198 pilot whales stuck on the beach have already died, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation said Friday.

The department’s staff, helped by 140 volunteers, were planning to try to refloat the giant mammals as the tide rose Friday evening, it said.

The whales are stuck on Farewell Spit, a thin claw of land that reaches out into the sea from the northern tip of the South Island.

The spit forms the top of Golden Bay, which is known as a stranding hotspot because of its protruding coastline, gently sloping beaches and system of currents.

The Department of Conservation advised the public not to try to come and help the efforts to save the whales.

“Refloating stranded whales is a difficult and potentially dangerous job, so it’s important we have the right people on the ground tonight trying to get these whales back to safety,” said Andrew Lamason, the department’s services manager for Golden Bay.

But if the efforts are unsuccessful, help may be needed Saturday to keep the whales cool and wet until the next high tide, authorities said.

Surrounded by oceans rich in marine life, New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates for sea mammals in the world.

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