61 whales die in mass stranding

Pod of whales beach themselves on New Zealand shore

WRITTEN BY: Molly Huscroft
pilot whale
Image Source: courtesy of NOAA Photo Library via flickr
pilot whale

61 pilot whales died in a mass stranding at a remote New Zealand beach, conservation officials said Wednesday.

According to News24, the Department of Conservation (DOC) said tourists found the pod on Monday at Farewell Spit, on the top of the South Island.

DOC local manager John Mason said a large number of the whales were already dead and the hopes that the remaining whales would survive were crushed when they returned to shore after being pushed out at high tide Tuesday.

Mason said 18 whales were still alive early Wednesday and the DOC staff decided to euthanize them rather than allowing them to continue to suffer.

Mason said, “It’s the worst outcome and it’s not a job our staff enjoy doing at all.”
Scientists are unsure why pilot whales beach themselves, News24 reports. They speculate it may occur when their sonar becomes scrambled because of shallow water or when one member of the pod is sick and heads for shore, causing the others to follow.

Pilot whales are up to six meters, or slightly less than 20 feet long, and are the most common species of whale in New Zealand waters.

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