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New Zealand Officials Warn Beached Whale Carcasses Could Explode

FILE - Volunteers try to assist some more stranded pilot whales that came to shore in the afternoon after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 11, 2017.

The tragic story of the hundreds of dead whales stranded on a New Zealand beach has taken an even more grisly turn as officials say they fear some of the carcasses could fill with gas and explode as they decompose.

On Tuesday, clearing of the nearly 700 pilot whales was underway at Farewell Spit, in one of the largest mass whale strandings ever seen in New Zealand, but the public was told to stay away due to possible health concerns and the possibility the carcasses could explode.

"Unfortunately, when a whale heats up, a lot of pressure builds up in their body and the only option is for them to explode," said ranger Amanda Harvey in an interview on TVNZ.

To try to stem the possibility of explosions, conservation workers donning protective gear poked holes in the carcasses in an effort to prevent gases from building up.

"I've seen exploding whales, it's not a pretty sight," said Conservation Department spokesman Herb Christophers in an interview with AFP.

Some 300 of the carcasses, which can be up to six meters long, are being trucked to a remote location where they will be allowed to decompose, officials said.

"They're being moved but they haven't been cleared out yet, not by a long chalk," said Conservation Department spokesman Herb Christophers in an interview with AFP. "It's going to be a few days' work just getting them off the beach.

In total 666 whales were stranded Friday and Saturday on the beach which is at the northernmost part of New Zealand’s South Island.