Nearly 150 pilot whales were last weekend, having all stranded themselves on the shore for an unknown reason. All of the whales, unfortunately, have died.
It’s not clear exactly when the animals beached themselves because the coastline in question is part of Stewart Island, a remote island on the southern tip of New Zealand home to only about 350 people. The whales were discovered by a hiker exploring the beach, but by the time they were found most of the animals had already died.
The pilot whales that were still alive when they were discovered had to be euthanized, because their condition and the remoteness of the location made saving them impossible. “Sadly, the likelihood of being able to successfully re-float the remaining whales was extremely low,” said Ren Leppens, operations manager of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. “The most humane thing to do was to euthanize.”
Dolphins or whales washing up on the shores of New Zealand isn’t new. The Department of Conservation responds to around 85 beaching incidents per year, but typically each incident involves only a single animal. Almost 150 animals at once is much less common.
It’s not clear why whales and dolphins beach themselves in general, or why nearly 150 pilot whales all decided to beach at the same time last weekend. There are plenty of possible reasons, including navigational failures, weather, or environmental stresses. One of the biggest causes of beaching is noise from human boats. That noise is even driving whales to communicate on different frequencies.