Two pilot whale pods were discovered stranded on a remote beach in New Zealand Saturday night, November 24, according to a press release by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The two pods, about 2 kilometers apart, were found by a hiker at the southern end of Mason Bay on Rakiura or Stewart Island.
Of the 145 whales that washed ashore, approximately half of them were already deceased by the time they were spotted. Due to the nature of the stranding, the remaining whales were euthanized.
DOC Rakiura Operations Manager Ren Leppens stated in the press release that euthanization was necessary because of the whales’ deterioration, and the difficulty in gaining access to the shoreline.
“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.”
Leppens added, “However, it’s always a heart-breaking decision to make.”
It is suspected that the whales had been stranded on the beach for more than a day, according to Leppens, as reported by Fox News. Leppens said that the whales were somewhat buried in the sand. Those that needed to be put down were shot, and the bodies were left behind so that the natural decaying process could run its course.
The cause of the mass stranding is unknown at this time, but the DOC cites “sickness, navigational error, geographical features, a rapidly falling tide, being chased by a predator, or extreme weather” as common factors in whale and dolphin strandings. The department also responds to roughly 85 incidents per year.
In similar – but unlikely related – news, 10 pygmy killer whales were found stranded Sunday at Ninety Mile beach. Eight of those whales have been rescued by Project Jonah New Zealand.
Of the 12 pygmy killer whales which stranded just over 24 hours ago, eight are alive and are being moved from Ninety Mile Beach on the west coast to Rarawa Beach on the east coast. Conditions on the east coast are calmer and there is a stream where whales can be held overnight. pic.twitter.com/dzn2pelRv5— Project Jonah (@ProjectJonah) November 26, 2018
In February of 2017, New Zealand saw one of its largest mass whale strandings, according to the DOC. More than 600 pilot whales washed ashore on Farewell Split in Golden Bay. Approximately 200 of those whales died as a result. More than 400 whales were saved, and were refloated with the combined efforts of the DOC, Project Jonah, and many volunteers over a three-day recovery period.
“Project Jonah has been doing a fantastic job organizing the volunteers, providing instruction and safety briefings, and even managing the car parking issues,” stated Andrew Lamason, Operations Manager Takaka.
Project Jonah is a volunteer organization that advocates for, and rescues, marine mammals. Volunteers do everything from picking up litter on the beaches to rescuing stranded whales on the shores.