Story at a glance

  • New Zealand’s Department of Conservation was alerted of the stranding Sunday.
  • Twenty-six whales were alive when rescuers arrived but had to be euthanized.
  • Mass strandings on the remote islands are not uncommon. One single stranding in 1918 left up to 1,000 animals dead.

A mass stranding on the remote Chatham Islands in the Pacific Ocean has left nearly 100 whales dead, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation announced on Wednesday. 

A total of 97 pilot whales and three dolphins died in the stranding, which conservation department staff were alerted to Sunday afternoon. 


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Due to the remote location of the islands and a power outage that made it difficult to make contact with people as part of the rescue operation, it was 3 p.m. by the time rangers arrived at the scene at Waitangi West Beach. 

“Only 26 of the whales were still alive at this point, the majority of them appearing very weak, and were euthanised due to the rough sea conditions and almost certainty of there being great white sharks in the water which are brought in by a stranding like this,” biodiversity ranger Jemma Welch said in a statement. 

Two more whales were stranded and had to be euthanized on Monday when staff made a follow-up visit to the site. 

Representatives from the Indigenous Hokotehi Moriori Trust and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Iwi Trust joined the Department of Conservation staff on Sunday where they performed a prayer to honor the spirit of the whales, the department said. 

Pilot whales are one of the most common species of whale in New Zealand waters and can grow up to 20 feet in length. The animals live in groups of dozens, hundreds and sometimes thousands. 

Mass strandings on the remote islands are not uncommon. One single stranding in 1918 left up to 1,000 animals dead. 

In late September, more than 450 pilot whales were stranded off of Tasmania’s west coast, in what was the worst whale stranding event the Australian island has ever seen. At least a third of the animals died during rescue attempts.


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Published on Nov 25, 2020