New Zealand Beach Stranded Whales: Story Behind Why It Happened

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Early Friday morning, volunteers scramble at the shores of New Zealand beach to save more than 400 stranded whales (killer whales) in the shallow waters at Farewell Spit.

Despite efforts of the country’s marine mammal charity Project Jonah which is leading the attempts to save a total of 416 stranded whales that beached themselves on the shore, more than 300 of the creatures died in struggles to wiggle back to the deeper ocean.

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Part of the efforts adopted by medics and members of the public is to keep the survive mammals alive is to keep them cool, calm and comfortable. Locals are currently helping the rescue efforts by bringing in towels buckets and sheets to keep whales cool and wet against sunny weather.

The rescue team used the seas high tide to successfully refloat the 100 remaining whales. The team leader for the DOC Takaka area, Andrew Lamason, who was interviewed by The Guardian said the over 400 stranded whales was the largest in history, and he doesn’t know why such large number of whales swam to the shore.

Lamason explained how difficult it gets to lure the creatures back to the sea since they tend to travel in schools, led by strong leaders [whales]. He said:

“We are trying to swim the whales out to sea and guide them but they don’t really take directions, they go where they want to go. Unless they get a couple of strong leaders who decide to head out to sea, the remaining whales will try and keep with their pod on the beach.” 

This isn’t the first time the story of ‘stranded whales’ is heard on the New Zealand beach but this makes it the third largest whale stranding in New Zealand’s recorded history. According to the whale rescue group, the country has one of the highest rates of whales strandings in the world, and on average, about 300 whales and dolphins beach themselves on Kiwi shores every year.

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Similar, incident happened in 1918 when 1,000 whales beached themselves on the Chatham Islands, and in 1985, 450 stranded at Great Barrier Island off the coast of Auckland, The Guadian reported. It is believed that a number of factors drive whales towards sea shore, with the old, sick and injured whales being particularly vulnerable.

Navigational errors among pods are also common, especially when chasing food or coming close to shore to avoid predators such as orcas.

Lamason is hopeful they can rescue as many of the creature as possible as hundreds of volunteers have started turning up and also prepared, with food and supplies, to stay all day and night for the course.

He said:

“It is cold, it’s wet and some of us have been in and out of the water for nine hours now, we can only cope with robust volunteers, not ones that are going to break down, which happens quite often.

“We are in the farthest corner of the universe here but now volunteers have started turning up en masse.”