145 pilot whales die after mass stranding in New Zealand

Pilot whales stranded on Stewart Island in New Zealand. Pic Dept of Conservation

More than 300 pilot whales died in 2017 after they were stranded on a beach on the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island.

DOC Rakiura operations manager Ren Leppens said at least half of the whales were dead by the time staff arrived at the scene. "The remote location, lack of nearby personnel and the whales' deteriorating condition meant the most humane thing to do was euthanise".

The DOC said that it responds to an average of 85 stranding incidents a year, although most involve single marine mammals rather than entire pods.

The whales could have become stranded on the beach as early as Friday, and although the conservation team attempted to save as many as possible, the remote location of the island meant that it was too hard to re-float them.

A series of whale strandings occurred over the weekend in New Zealand, but the incidents are so far thought to be unrelated.

The 19km stretch of beach at Mason Bay could be "confusing" for whales, he said.

It's unclear what caused either stranding. Conservation officers found that half of the whales decided not to return to the waters as their condition was bad.

Pilot whales stranded on Stewart Island in New Zealand. Pic Dept of Conservation
Image The whales were in a very remote location. Pic Dept of Conservation

"What we do find with nearly every stranding, there's more than one reason. sometimes we can put it down to a combination of four, five, even six different factors that may have led to the stranding".

Whales can only swim forward, so can also become stuck as the tide recedes. Two separate pods were found, beached about 1.2 miles apart along the shoreline. Whales can only swim forwards and a tidal change can affect their sense of direction.

Stewart Island, also know as Rakiura, is home to around 380 people. Grover said stranded whales needed to be tended to quickly because of predator and seagull attacks, dehydration, and the onset of heat exhaustion.

The Ngāi Tahu, the local Māori tribe, is now working with DOC to bless the dead whales and figure out a plan to bury the bodies.

The animals were discovered by a walker late on Saturday, strewn along the beach of Mason Bay.

Hupman said not a lot was known about why whales stranded, but they were usually coming onto the beach for a reason.

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