More than 600 pilot whales have beached themselves on a long strip of shore in New Zealand called Farewell Spit. By the time they were discovered, up to 300 of them were already dead. Volunteer workers with Project Jonah frantically tried to save those that were still alive by pushing them back into the water when the tide came in, and trying to keep them from washing ashore again.
Some of the whales successfully swam back out into the ocean, while others washed ashore and were beached again. Whales are social creatures and will try to stay with their group or pod even if it means danger. It is believed that if one of the whales had been injured or sickly and washed ashore, the others would have followed.
This is not the first time hundreds of whales have beached themselves in New Zealand. Farewell Spit is the same beach that found 200 whales washed ashore just two years ago. This piece of land is known as a trap for the large mammals as it is easy for them to swim out into the shallow waters and get stuck there.
In 1918, 1,000 whales were stranded on Chatham Islands in New Zealand’s east coast. It is not fully understood why they become stranded, but it is believed that there are many probable causes to consider. This is the largest beaching of whales the area has seen in many years. Volunteers described the scene as very sad, with the saddest being watching the younger ones die.
Pathologists are studying the whales to try to discover what could have caused so many to wash ashore. It is noted that sometimes extreme weather conditions, and ocean floor topography can lead them to swim into shallow waters they have trouble navigating out of. According to Project Jonah, about 300 whales and dolphins beach themselves each year.
What can we learn from such massive loss of marine life? Let’s discuss it here or on Twitter: @lcarterwriter.