Farewell Spit, up in the northwest tip of the South Island, has been in the news this last week, after hundreds of Pilot whales became stranded there.
Last Friday evening saw the third worst whale stranding in New Zealand history, as well over 500 Pilot Whales became stranded at Farewell Spit, up on the northwest tip of the South Island.
No-one really knows what caused the whales to swim too close to the shoreline and become beached, but it’s suggested that it could be due to underwater sea quakes, or explosions caused by sonar may be responsible, or it’s possible that the whales were chasing prey and veered off their course.
Once even one whale becomes stranded, the rest of the pod can soon get into difficulty as they respond to the distress calls and try to help. The area of Golden Bay, where the whales became stranded is a common place for whales to beach due to its location, stretching out from the coastline in a huge narrow arc, with extremely shallow, muddy waters that can confuse the sonar system of the whales and leave them at risk of stranding as the tide recedes. Every year a few whales become stranded here, but never has there been such a mass stranding as this.
A huge team of over 400 volunteers and experts spent the weekend desperately trying to rescue them, working in shifts and on rotation to try to keep surviving whales upright and wet until the tide came backing and they could attempt to refloat them. Unfortunately many soon became stranded again and its believed that over 300 have died in total.
Pilot Whales are not an endangered species in New Zealand, though little is known about their true population in New Zealand Waters. Regardless, it’s a huge amount of marine life to be lost, and has saddened and shocked locals and visitors alike.
The hearbreaking scene has filled the Media across the world, after authorities have had to cut open the dead whale carcasses to stop them exploding on the beaches due to a build up on internal gasses. The Department of Conservation (DOC) has sealed off the area from the public to protect them, and its thought it will take many months for the bodies to decompose.
It’s not really known why January and February are such peak months for whale strandings in new Zealand, but it’s believed that it could be due to changes in feeding patterns or water temperature as the huge mammals pass through the Cook Straight between the North and South Islands at that time of year.
According to DOC, the largest ever whales stranding in New Zealand was back in1918 when over 1,000 whales became died at another hotspot of whale stranding in the Chatham Islands.