A group of almost 150 pilot whales have died after they became stranded on a beach in New Zealand.
The animals were found by a passer-by who was walking along Mason Bay, on Stewart Island, late on Saturday, November 24.
According to authorities, half the whales were already dead when they were found, while the other half had to be put down as it was too late and would have been too difficult to save them.
The pilot whales were stranded in two separate groups, around 1.2 miles (2km) apart on Stewart Island, just off the coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
In a statement, Ren Leppens of the regional Department of Conservation (DOC), said, via BBC:
Sadly, the likelihood of being able to successfully re-float the remaining whales was extremely low.
The remote location, lack of nearby personnel and the whales’ deteriorating condition meant the most humane thing to do was to euthanise.
However, it’s always a heart-breaking decision to make.
The DOC added that whale beachings are not uncommon in New Zealand, there are usually around 85 incidents a year.
However, in most cases it is usually just a single animal that had beached. To have a whole pod of whales stranded is out of the ordinary.
The reasons behind whales and dolphins beaching and becoming stranded are still not fully known. However, some reasons suggested are possible sickness, navigational errors, falling tide levels or being chased by predators.
Daren Grover, the general manager of Project Jonah who rescue and protect whales and dolphins, said that while pilot whales are not endangered, it is hard to calculate their total population. It is therefore difficult to say what impact the loss of such a large number of whales will have in the long term.
According to Grover, the 19km stretch of beach at Mason Bay might be ‘confusing’ for whales, as ‘shelving’ waters in the area could distort their echolocation signals. This would also explain why most mass strandings of this type happen in the summer, when whales follow their food sources inshore, according to National.
He also suggested another reason as to why the whales could become stranded, as they can only swim forward, so when they get stuck it is difficult to get back out to safety.
It could be that they are swimming forward, then the tide changes and they’re unable to turn around because they can’t swim backwards so there really is no place to go.
According to Project Jonah, New Zealand has one of the highest rates of whale strandings in the world.
The country has seen a number of incidents in the past few days, as 12 pygmy killer whales were found on a beach in Northland, while a 15-metre long sperm whale died on a beach at Doubtful Sound earlier this month.
Of the 12 pygmy whales, four have sadly died. Project Jonah hope to save the remaining eight with the help of volunteers.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.