Almost 200 whales stranded on New Zealand beach

February 13, 2015
Scientists are unclear why pilot whales strand themselves in large groups, with some speculating healthy whales beach themselves while trying to help sick or disorientated family members that are stranded

Almost 200 pilot whales stranded themselves Friday on a New Zealand beach renowned as a deathtrap for the marine mammals, conservation officials said.

At least 24 whales from the pod of 198 that beached themselves at Farewell Spit had died and were trying to refloat the survivors, the Department of Conservation (DOC) said.

"Re-floating stranded whales is a difficult and potentially dangerous job... community group Project Jonah has 140 volunteers in the Golden Bay area who are trained to do this and we're working alongside them," DOC spokesman Andrew Lamason said.

He said if the re-float attempt late Friday failed then the rescuers would have to wait 24 hours for another high tide before trying again.

Farewell Spit beach, at the northern tip of the South Island, has been the scene of many mass pilot whale strandings over the years.

There have been at least eight in the past decade, including two within the space of a week in January last year, although the latest stranding is one of the largest.

Pilot whales grow up to six metres (20 feet) long and are the most common species of whale in New Zealand waters.

Scientists are unclear why they strand themselves in large groups, with some speculating healthy whales beach themselves while trying to help sick or disorientated family members that are stranded.

Others believe the topography of certain places like Farewell Spit somehow scrambles the whales' sonar navigation, causing them to beach.

Once stranded, the whales are vulnerable to dehydration and sunburn until rescuers can use the high tide to move their massive weight back into deeper water.

Once refloated, the often simply swim back ashore and have to be euthanised.

Explore further: Stranded whales to be euthanised in New Zealand

Related Stories

Ninety whales stranded on New Zealand beach

January 23, 2012

A pod of 90 pilot whales have beached themselves at the top of New Zealand's South island, in the same area where seven whales died in a mass stranding earlier this month, according to officials.

Pilot whales stranded on New Zealand beach

November 15, 2012

A pod of 28 pilot whales that were left stranded on a New Zealand beach on Thursday are likely be put down as there is little chance of refloating them, wildlife officials said.

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Returners
1 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2015
Have they done autopsies to test for mind/sensory altering diseases? Something perhaps disorienting or maddening akin to Rabies or a severe fever?

This seems obvious, but nobody ever mentions it in these articles. Maybe it was ruled out years ago, or maybe it's been overlooked.

Why would the whales immediately beach themselves again? If it was navigation, we know they are "smart enough" to learn from mistakes. So to me that suggests disorientation from disease, injury, or interference.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.