Photos: 477 whales die in ‘heartbreaking’ strandings in New Zealand

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Some 477 pilot whales have died after stranding on two remote New Zealand beaches in recent days, officials say.


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None of the stranded whales were refloated and all either died of natural causes or were euthanized in a “heartbreaking” loss, said Daren Grover, the general manager of Project Jonah, a nonprofit group that helps save whales.

The whales stranded on the Chatham Islands, home to about 600 people and about 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of New Zealand’s main islands.

The Conservation Department said 232 whales were stranded at Tupuangi Beach on Friday and another 245 at Waihere Bay on Monday.

The deaths come two weeks after about 200 pilot whales died in Australia after being stranded on a remote Tasmanian beach.

“These events are difficult, challenging situations,” the Department of Conservation wrote in a Facebook post. “Although these are natural events, they are still sad and difficult for the rescuers.”

Grover said the remote location and the presence of sharks in the surrounding waters meant they couldn’t mobilize volunteers to try to refloat the whales like they had in previous stranding events.

“Due to the risk of shark attack on humans and the whales themselves, we don’t actively relaunch whales in the Chatham Islands, so euthanasia was the friendliest option,” said Dave Lundquist, a marine technical adviser with the Conservation Department.

Pilot whale strandings are fairly common in New Zealand, especially during the summer months. Scientists don’t know exactly why the whales strand, although it appears their tracking systems can be confused by gently sloping sandy beaches.

Grover said there is plenty of food for the whales around the Chatham Islands, and as they swim closer to land, they would quickly find themselves moving from very deep to shallow water.

“They rely on their echolocation, but it doesn’t tell them they’re running out of water,” Grover said. “They get closer and closer to the coast and lose their bearings. The tide can then fall beneath them and before they know it they are stranded on the beach.”

Because of the remote location of the beaches, whale carcasses aren’t buried or towed out to sea, as is often the case, but left to decompose, Grover said.

“Nature is a great recycler and all the energy stored in the bodies of all whales is returned to nature pretty quickly,” he said. Photos: 477 whales die in ‘heartbreaking’ strandings in New Zealand

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