Less than a week after Norwegian authorities were forced to euthanise a beached whale off the shores of Sotra, 650 whales became beached on New Zealand’s South Island over the weekend.
The pilot whales became stranded over five kilometres of coastline on the Farewell Spit at the tip of the South Island. Volunteers worked tirelessly to try and re-float those whales that were still alive, managing to get 100 back to sea. The first pod of beached whales were found early Friday morning, many of which had already died by the time volunteers reached the shores. A second pod became beached again on Saturday.
Overall, hundreds of rescuers managed to save around 400 pilot whales. Despite these efforts, 300 whales died as a result of the event.
The Department of Conversation has just finished the macabre task of disposing of the whale carcasses, in the light of the risk of whales exploding from decomposing gases. The area has been cordoned off from the public due to safety risks.
The precise cause of the whale stranding is still unknown. However, it is not an unknown occurrence for Golden Bay. According to the marine environmental organisation, Project Jonah, the areas shallow muddy waters confuse the whales’ sonar, leaving them vulnerable to stranding by an ebb tide.
Pilot whales are not currently listed as an endangered species.
Pathologists from Massey University are planning on studying some of the dead animals in the hope of gaining a greater understanding of why the whales had died.
Local Maori representatives offered a karakia, or prayer, to send off the dead whales and honour their lives.
Whale strandings at Farewell Spit occur most years due to the strong pulls of the tide, but the devastating numbers seen in this year’s beaching have shocked local authorities and officials.