In one of the saddest news stories to come out this week, hundreds of pilot whales have died overnight after stranding themselves on a New Zealand beach. Currently, there are efforts underway to rescue the remaining 100 whales.
Yesterday, in the early hours of the morning local New Zealand time, the Department of Conservation (DOC) discovered 416 pilot whales beached on Farewell Spit in Golden Bay on the tip of the South Island. What followed was an emergency call to arms, after discovering that around 100 were still alive.
Locals were urged to drop work and school commitments and convene on the beach with buckets, towels, and blankets to keep the whales wet and cool. By mid-morning, the whales had successfully been refloated, but by the afternoon, when the tide came in, around 90 had beached themselves again.
What is making returning the whales safely to open water so difficult is that whales are social animals and they want to remain close to their pod, even if most of them are now dead.
Peter Wiles, one of the first volunteers to reach Farewell Spit, told Fairfax New Zealand: “It is one of the saddest things I have seen, that many sentient creatures just wasted on the beach."
Video footage of the mass stranding is difficult to watch. The Guardian
As of now, DOC officials and volunteers are trying to keep the remaining whales alive and as healthy as possible until the next high tide, which is tomorrow lunchtime local time (around midnight EST Saturday).
It is not uncommon for whales to beach themselves in this bay, due to the shallow water and strong currents making it difficult to get out again. However, local experts are not sure what caused this particular one yet.
Around 300 whales and dolphins strand themselves on New Zealand beaches every year. According to the DOC’s records, about 5,000 whales and dolphins in total have beached themselves since 1840. This is, however, the third largest mass stranding in New Zealand history, as usually it is just one or two at a time.
[H/T: The Guardian]