145 pilot whales die after stranding at Stewart Island

Arturo Kim
November 27, 2018

Up to 145 pilot whales that were stranded on a remote beach on the southern tip of New Zealand have died, the country's Department of Conservation (DOC) said on Monday.

A hiker discovered the pilot whales stranded in two pods about 1.2 miles (2km) apart on the same stretch of coast late Saturday.

Footage showed the whales lining the beach at Mason Bay.

Authorities said half of the whales had already died by the time they were found. "However, it's always a heart-breaking decision to make".

Whale strandings are quite common in New Zealand and the Department of Conservation responds to around 85 of them every year.

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

The group said it planned to re-float the whales on Tuesday and has asked for volunteers to help.

There had been a number of mass whale strandings, particularly in the Mason Bay area, partly due to its "gently-shelving sandy beaches" he said.

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Eight pygmy whales remain stranded on 90 mile beach in Northland, with two others from the same pod euthanised over the weekend.

"Large numbers of pilot whales have been stranding for as long as we know", Russell Leaper, Whale Researcher at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told ABC News.

"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".

Stewart Island's population is extremely low, even in the peak of summer, meaning there are "very few people to keep an eye on the shore".

According to DOC the reasons for whale strandings are not fully understood, but contributing factors can include "sickness, navigational error, geographical features, a rapidly falling tide, being chased by a predator, or extreme weather".

In recent years, the biggest stranding of whales was at Farewell Spit in 2017 when 650 pilot whales were stranded. In 1998 more than 300 whales beached themselves at the spot.

It was one of four strandings discovered on New Zealand shores over the weekend.

DOC has notified local Ngāi Tahu and they are working together on what to do next.

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