107 whales die on New Zealand beach

Over 100 pilot whales are dead after a stranding on Stewart Island in New Zealand. Discovered by tourists Saturday about half the beached whales were already dead. New Zealand Department of Conservation staff euthanized the rest.

“About half of the whales were still alive when we arrived,” said biodiversity manager Brent Beaven.

The group (pod) of whales were the latest to die in a series of mass-strandings in the area. Strandings (sometimes called “beachings”) occur when whales swim into shalow water and end up stranding themselves on beaches.

In this case, about half the pod of 107 whales were dead when conservation staff members arrived on the scene. Given enough time and manpower, they would have attempted to re-float the whales.

“With just five people currently on site and the tide on its way out, we saw little hope of keeping the animals alive until enough rescuers could be flown in to assist,” Beaven said

Concerned about a storm warning, endangering the lives of staff and volunteers who would be at least 10 to 12 hours away, the decision was made to euthanize the remaining whales.

“Euthanasia is a difficult decision but is made purely for the welfare of the animal involved. To prevent it from prolonged suffering” Beaven concluded. “Sadly 48 whales had to be put down”

Whale strandings are common in New Zealand. Just last month, 24 whales stranded and in 2009 over 100 whales died in separate strandings.

While the cause of strandings is unknown, some theories suggest that a single whale may strand itself due to illness or injury. When large pods of whales strand, scientists believe it is because of their highly social nature. Healthy whales refuse to abandon sick or injured pod members, causing them to strand.

Photo: The Southland Times