WELLINGTON: More than 50 pilot whales have died in another mass stranding in New Zealand, taking the death toll of beached marine mammals to over 200 in the past week, wildlife authorities said Friday (Nov 30).
A pod of 80 to 90 whales was spotted late Thursday on the shore of
remote Chatham Island, about 800km east of the South Island, the
Department of Conservation said.
It is the fifth stranding in New Zealand in less than a week, including
145 pilot whales which all died after they beached last weekend at
Stewart Island, off the southern coast of the South Island.
By the time rangers reached the latest group of animals early Friday 50
had died, one remained stranded but alive and the rest had refloated
themselves and returned to sea.
Department of Conservation manager Dave Carlton said the surviving whale was in poor condition and was euthanised.
"It was the most humane thing to do. This is always an awful decision to have to make," he said.
Chatham Island was the scene of New Zealand's largest recorded stranding in 1918, involving 1,000 whales.
In addition to the strandings at Chatham and Stewart Islands this week, a
group of 12 pygmy whales also beached in New Zealand's far north and a
sperm whale and a pygmy sperm whale grounded themselves in separate
incidents on the North Island.
Karen Stockin, a marine mammal scientist at Massey University, said
while whale strandings were relatively common in New Zealand, the
cluster of incidents in such a short timeframe was unusual.
"ONLY THE BEGINNING"
She also pointed out that species such as pygmy killer whales and sperm
whales did not normally beach, unlike pilot whales, which regularly wash
up on New Zealand beaches in the summer months.
Stockin, who is an expert consultant on strandings for the International
Whaling Commission, said it added to a string of strange whale
behaviour over the past year.
In addition to a rise in strandings, she said a number of species had
appeared that were not normally seen in New Zealand waters, including
gargantuan blue whales in the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland.
Stockin said New Zealand was currently experiencing some of the warmest
ocean temperatures on record and she believed it was affecting whale
"We've had an unusual week, which we haven't got to the bottom of, and
it's fair to say it's been an entirely unusual year," she told AFP.
"I suspect a lot of that has been driven by the warmer sea surface temperatures that we're seeing at the moment.
"We definitely have a spike in temperatures, that's likely affecting
where the prey is moving and as a consequence we're seeing prey moving
and (whale) species following."
She said one reason for the rising ocean temperature was the naturally
occurring El Nino weather pattern, but global warming caused by climate
change may also be playing a part.
"We certainly have the El Nino pattern in play, but the reality is I've
no doubt it's been further exacerbated by the potential global warming
effect," she said.
"So you've got a bit of both going on there ... we can't tease those things apart at this stage."
New Zealand's summer, the peak time for whales to beach, begins on Saturday and Stockin said more strandings were likely.
"We're just going into stranding season now, this is only the beginning
of it and we're very mindful of the fact that this a very busy start,"
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