Even as rescuers continued their efforts to re-float a large group of stranded whales at a New Zealand beach, a new group of whales comprising of more than 240 individuals also ran aground on Saturday adding to the woes of the exhausted rescue team, NBC News reports.
On Friday, there were reports that volunteers were able to rescue more than 100 whales and escort them out to deeper waters. However, they were unable to save the lives of an estimated 335 whales whose carcasses now lie strewn on the beach. 220 other whales from the earlier pod are still alive – but remain grounded with time running out fast for them. It is in this situation that 240 more whales were found stranded in the same area earlier today, posing more challenges for the rescue team. According to Kyle Mulinder, who works as a volunteer with Project Jonah, a group that works to protect marine mammals, this new group was one of the largest strandings he has seen.
“I was here first thing this morning and there was a small group of us. And essentially we went out and saw one of the biggest strandings I’ve ever seen.”
The strandings have also left several rescuers emotional. Jonathan Jones, one of the rescuers, said this was one of the worst things he had ever seen.
“I’ve never experienced death like this before. You know, for such a majestic animal, it’s really strange to see them doing this.”
Amongst the worst things the volunteers had to do was to euthanize some of the whales that were in very poor health. An estimated 20 whales were euthanized by the rescuers to end their suffering. With the new group of stranded whales, the total number of whales that have beached themselves in the past two days have crossed 650. The area where the strandings have happened is a remote, three-mile stretch of coastline known as the Farewell Spit. This is located at the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. Before the new pod beach themselves today, the total number of whales stranded at the beach was estimated to be around 416 individuals. Meanwhile, officials from the Department of Conservation Golden Bay, have confirmed that the new pod of whales are not the ones that they had refloated earlier. They were able to tell this because they had tagged each of the refloated whales so that they could be identified in case they beach themselves again.
This incident of whale strandings at New Zealand has left several researchers perplexed as they struggled to look for a logical reason behind this strange behavior. While they are yet to establish a single reason, debates rage on with some people saying they the pods were stuck in the midst of chasing prey. Another group of researchers believe that the group behaved strangely as they tried to protect a sick member of the group.
However, local people have noted that this is not the first time large numbers of whales have beached themselves at this location. In fact, the entire Farewell Spit region has earned the dubious name of a whale trap. The geography of the region that consists of a long protruding coastline combined with gently sloping beaches make it a death trap for whales that swim far too close to the shore. However, the newest incident is among the largest instances of whale beaching in New Zealand in recent times. The largest whale beaching incident reported from the country was nearly a century ago – back in 1918 when more than 1,000 Pilot whales were beached on the Chatham Islands. In 1985 too, more than 450 whales were stuck near Auckland.
Meanwhile, rescue efforts to save the rest of the whales are still underway.
[Featured Image by Tim Cuff/New Zealand Herald/AP Images]