Over 100 whales die after mass stranding in New Zealand

More than 120 whales have died off the coast of New Zealand’s Chatham Islands.
A mass stranding on the far-flung Chatham Islands in the Pacific Ocean has resulted in the deaths of more than 120 whales.

About 97 pilot whales and 3 bottlenose dolphins have died in a mass stranding on the remote Chatham Islands, off New Zealand’s east coast, officials said on Wednesday.

The Chatham Islands is part of New Zealand but lies 800km to the east, delaying the mission to rescue the animals. The New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) said the mass-stranding occurred on a “remote beach” over the weekend and it was alerted to the event on Sunday.

“Only 26 of the pilot whales and 3 bottleneck dolphins were still alive at this point, the majority of them appearing very weak, and were euthanised due to the rough sea conditions and almost certainty of there being great white sharks in the water which are brought in by a stranding like this,” said DOC.

DOC biodiversity ranger Jemma Welch said due to the remote location and a power outage making it difficult to contact people, it was 3pm by the time rangers arrived at the scene at Waitangi West Beach.

Mass whale strandings have occurred throughout recorded modern history, and why it happens is a question that has puzzled marine biologists for years. Mass strandings are reasonably common on the Chatham Islands with up to 1,000 animals dying in a single stranding in 1918.

Concrete information on why whales strand remains elusive, but sickness, navigational error, geographical features, a rapidly falling tide, being chased by a predator, or extreme weather are all thought to contribute, according to DoC.

Climate change is to blame too, scientists believe, with warming ocean temperatures moving whales’ prey closer to the shore and forcing them to pursue their food into shallow waters.

On average more than 300 dolphins and whales strand on New Zealand beaches each year. According to local Indigenous tribes, whale strandings are becoming bigger and more complex, with more deaths occurring.

In late September, several hundred whales died in shallow waters off the Australian coast in one of the world’s biggest mass whale strandings.