A mass stranding of more than 400 pilot whales off the coast of New Zealand led over 500 volunteers to the beaches to try and save the marine creatures. The beaching on New Zealand’s Farewell Spit nature reserve is being described as the third-largest whale beaching in the country’s history, it still remains unclear what led to it. Scientists have speculated that issues with these whales’ inner GPS to a “follow the leader” mentality may have doomed the pod, whilst officials warned of potential disease threats, however, much like many other beachings, their cause still remains a mystery.
Volunteers flocked to the distressed whales, using sheets to cover the whales’ thick skin and buckets to continuously pour water over them to keep them cool, and managed to re-float and save over 150 of the cetaceans, some of which had been beached for several hours. However, it is estimated about 80 to 90 of the survivors then re-stranded in shallow water. The volunteers then had to form a human chain to stop another, new super pod of 200 fresh whales from beaching themselves on the same beach; although they were successful, it seems as though several of those whales ended up stranding themselves on other surrounding beaches.
New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DoC) oversaw the rescue operations, as well as monitoring any more potential strandings such as the one the volunteers averted. The DoC were satisfied with how the overall situation ended, despite the relatively high death toll and having to euthanize over a dozen whales which were beyond help, they believe it could have been a lot worse had they not been able to intervene along with the volunteers to save the rest of the pod and preventing others from beaching themselves.
The biggest issue for the DoC is to determine what to do with the rotting corpses of the 250+ whales littering the public beach. It is believed that they will move the bodies to a part of the nature reserve that is closed off to the public, where they will be moved in-shore and into the dunes.
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