New Zealand has become somewhat accustomed to dealing with beached marine mammals, but the sheer number of stranded whales that the regional Department of Conservation (DOC) has been tasked with responding to in the last couple of weeks has been tremendously out of the ordinary.
It all started with more than 145 pilot whales that beached themselves at the Southern end of Mason Bay last week, but as it would seem, the whales keep coming. Between 80 and 90 more pilot whales beached themselves on New Zealand’s Chatham Islands on Thursday, and while some of those managed to refloat themselves, at least 50 are now being reported dead.
Image Credit: DOC
Authorities arrived at the scene of the mass beaching the very next morning, but unfortunately, 49 of the whales had already died. The lone survivor was in such ill health at the time that experts had no other humane option but to euthanize it.
"There was no likelihood of being able to successfully save the remaining whale. Sadly, the decision was made to euthanize. It was the most humane thing to do," explained Dave Carlton, a manager for the DOC. "This is always an awful decision to have to make."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, conservationists have expressed concern about the bizarre circumstances that caused such enormous quantities of whales to beach themselves in such a short period.
While it’s unclear why entire pods of whales beach themselves in this manner, some theories speculate that it could be related to navigational error, predatory fear, tidal timing, warming oceans, weather conditions, widespread illness, or any combination of these factors.
In an effort to learn more about what could be causing these debacles, experts are collecting biological samples from the carcasses before they’re buried in the sand just behind the beach. With a little luck, perhaps this effort will shed light on any illnesses (if there are any).
Because no one knows what’s causing these mass strandings, it’s challenging to deploy preventative measures. All DOC can do is keep responding to whale beaching reports and attempt to save as many as they can. We can only hope that the cause reveals itself soon.