Over the weekend, around 500 pilot whales stranded in Chatham Islands, New Zealand. The first stranding of over 200 pilot whales took place at the remote Chatham Islands. The second pilot whale stranding of around 240 pods took place at Pitt Island/Rangiauria. In the two incidents, the total number of pilot whales stranded at the shark-infested island is estimated to be around 500.
Not even a month ago, over 200 pilot whales were stranded and died in Tasmania. The same week, fourteen whales also washed up dead on the shore of King Island. The news of the 500 pilot whales stranded and coming to a cruel death is hard to swallow. Since the Chatham Islands is over 500 miles from New Zealand, getting adequate and fast help to the pod was impossible. The whales that survived the low tide were in poor health and ultimately had to be euthanized.
According to Dave Lundquist, a marine technical adviser for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, they do not refloat stranded whales or mammals. This is due to the high shark activity on the island. Lundquist said, “This decision is never taken lightly, but in cases like this it is the kindest option.”
The Chatham Islands are one of three main stranding hotspots in New Zealand. In 1918 the islands had a recorded stranding of 1,000 pilot whales. Scientists are still perplexed by the phenomenon. In a pod, the group follows the pilot whale. That leader could have veered off track due to noise, food, or hunger. The group followed the pilot whale to their death. Another issue could have been that the 500 pilot whales were feeding too close to the shore and stranded.
While mammal stranding are not rare, the horrible results hurt their total numbers.