Over 400 whales got themselves stranded on Farewell Spit on the South Island of New Zealand in the early morning hours of 10 February 2017. Almost three-quarter of them died broke the dawn broke.
The stranding has been described as the worst whale stranding in decades.
• Upon notification, the Department of Conservation (DOC) immediately launched a rescue operation for the beached whales.
• The organisation’s staff along with a dozen volunteers were at the sea early morning trying to refloat the remaining 100 whales.
• Still falling short on hands, the authorities issued an urgent plea to the locals in the area to drop their commitments and join the rescue mission with required essentials including towels, buckets and sheets to keep the beached whales cool, wet and calm.
• Though the beach is prone to whale stranding, as its shallow bay makes it difficult for them to swim out once they get too close, it is unclear how so many whales managed to beach themselves.
• While the rescue team managed to successfully refloat the 100 remaining whales, about 90 of them re-beached themselves in the afternoon during low tide.
• Even though the efforts are on to keep the surviving whales healthy and alive until the next high tide, which will be in the afternoon, chances of their survival are growing slim.
• In fact the volunteers also formed a human chain to restrain the remaining whales from stranding themselves again.
• With all focus on the living whales, plans for disposing of the dead have been put on hold for now.
According to Andrew Lamason, a team leader for the DOC Takaka area, it is common for whales involved in mass stranding to re-beach themselves, as they are used to staying in close proximity to their pod, the majority of which are lying dead on the beach and unless some of them decide to lead the group and head into the sea, the remaining ones will keep trying to come back.
Lamason also explained how emotionally draining the whole situation is and only those who are strong-headed can go through with it, as the site is not one that everyone can cope with. He, however, added that hundreds of New Zealanders have come to the beach to help, most well prepared to stay there all day and night if needed.
• The current stranding at Farwell Spit is the third largest whale stranding in New Zealand’s recorded history.
• The worst one was in 1981 when over 1000 whales had beached themselves on the country’s Chatham Islands.
• In another incident, around 450 whales had gotten themselves stranded on the Great Barrier Island, off the coast of Auckland in 1985.
• New Zealand has the highest number of whale strandings in the world with an average of 300 whales and dolphins beaching themselves on the country’s beaches every year.
• According to the records of the DOC, more than 5000 whales and dolphins have stranded themselves on beaches in New Zealand since 1840.