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More than 140 pilot whales die in ‘heartbreaking’ New Zealand stranding

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More than 140 pilot whales die in 'heartbreaking' New Zealand stranding

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “More than 140 pilot whales die in ‘heartbreaking’ New Zealand stranding” was written by Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin, for theguardian.com on Monday 26th November 2018 01.11 UTC

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More than 140 pilot whales have died on a remote New Zealand beach, the latest in a recent string of whale strandings and deaths in the country.

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On Saturday night the Department of Conservation [DoC] was informed of a mass whale stranding in Mason Bay on Stewart Island.

A hiker camping in the remote location told authorities of the tragedy, with the number of whales equating to two pods.

DOC Rakiura operations manager Ren Leppens said at least half of the whales were dead by the time staff arrived at the scene.

“Sadly, the likelihood of being able to successfully refloat the remaining whales was extremely low. The remote location, lack of nearby personnel and the whales’ deteriorating condition meant the most humane thing to do was to euthanise,” said Leppens. “However, it’s always a heartbreaking decision to make.”

The local Māori, tribe, Ngāi Tahu, is now working with DOC to bless the dead whales and make plans for burial of the bodies.

Marine strandings are common in New Zealand, with the country a “hotspot”, according to DOC, who respond to about 85 incidents a year, usually of single animals.

Since 1840, more than 5,000 strandings have been recorded around the New Zealand coastline.


According to DOC the reasons for whale strandings are not fully understood, but contributing factors can include “sickness, navigational error, geographical features, a rapidly falling tide, being chased by a predator, or extreme weather”.

Project Jonah, a whale rescue group says New Zealand has one of the highest rates of whale strandings in the world, with an average of 300 whales and dolphins beaching themselves every year.

A series of whale strandings occurred over the weekend in New Zealand, but the incidents are so far thought to be unrelated.

Eight pygmy whales remain stranded on 90 mile beach in Northland, with two others from the same pod euthanised over the weekend.

A 15-metre male sperm whale beached and died at Doubtful Sound on Saturday, while a female pygmy sperm whale washed up dead at Ohiwa over the weekend.

Last year more than 400 pilot whales were stranded in Golden Bay, the largest whale stranding in New Zealand’s history. Although hundreds of locals participated in a mass civilian rescue effort, more than 300 whales died.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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