Up to 145 whales die after mass stranding in New Zealand

Greg Lawrence
November 28, 2018

Up to 145 pilot whales were found stranded on a remote beach on Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura, in New Zealand, late on Saturday, November 24.

A hiker discovered the beached whales stranded ashore Saturday on Stewart Island, a remote island with a population of about 375 people.

The conservation authorities were alerted about the impending disaster at the weekend when a camper spotted the whales and hiked to the nearest field base to report what was happening.

Roughly half of the whales were already dead by the time they were found, leaving officials from the New Zealand Department of Conservation with the "heartbreaking decision" to euthanize the remainder.

The rest of the whales were euthanised due to their deteriorating condition and the remote, hard access to the location.

"However, it's always a heart-breaking decision to make", he said.

All of the 145 pilot whales that stranded themselves on a remote New Zealand beach have died.

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According to the DOC, marine mammal strandings are a relatively common occurrence on New Zealand shores, and there are about 85 incidents per year, mostly of single animals.

The reasons why whales and dolphins can become stranded have not been clarified, although it is attributed to diseases, navigation errors, sudden changes in tides, being chased by predators or extreme weather conditions.

The whales lived in extended family groups, and if even one or two members of the group got into trouble - for instance if they were sick, elderly, having difficulty giving birth, or could not use echolocation properly - the others felt compelled to stay to help, she said.

The rest were in very bad health and were euthanised, due to the lack of potential rescuers and the difficulty they would have faced in reaching the location. More than one factor may contribute to a stranding.

Devastating footage showed some of the whales lying motionless and half-buried in the sand on the country's Stewart Island.

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

Project Jonah general manager Daren Grover said pilot whales are not endangered, but their total population is unclear so it is hard to say what the long-term toll of a large stranding could be. Two have died and conservation workers are trying to save the other eight by floating them from a different beach on the East Coast.

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