Rescue was not possible for ten pilot whales found stranded this morning in the Parengarenga harbour near the top of New Zealand.
The Department of Conservation’s Kaitaia Area Office was alerted to the plight of the whales at 11.40am this morning by a member of the public. The initial number given was between 30-40 live whales.
An on-site assessment by DOC staff revealed 24 whales, only 10 of who were still alive, spread over 150 metres in mud, rocks and mangroves.
Department of Conservation Area Manager Jonathan Maxwell, said given the number of dead, it was likely the whales would have stranded yesterday, meaning they had been trapped in the shallow water and mud for some time.
Mr Maxwell said the whales were in poor shape, with their plight further exacerbated by unfavourable conditions.
“High tide isn’t until 11pm tonight, and we have deteriorating weather conditions around the coast. This meant the chance of successfully refloating the whales was virtually nil,” explained Mr Maxwell.
Mr Maxwell said given the circumstances, the difficult decision was made to euthanize the whales.
“If we felt there was a real chance we could have successfully rescued them, we would have. But sadly the current conditions were against these animals. The kindest thing was to end their suffering,” said Mr Maxwell.
The Department of Conservation has responsibilities for all marine mammals under the Marine Mammals Act. This includes whales, dolphins and seals. When dealing with mass strandings, the Department works closely with volunteer organisations, in particular Project Jonah, and also local organisations like Far North Whale Rescue, as well as iwi and researchers.
Pilot whales are highly relational, travelling in pods consisting of family groups. Because of their close ties to each other, when one of their pod gets into trouble and strands, generally the others will follow to try to help and become stranded themselves. The reasons for whale strandings are not conclusive but include sickness and disorientation.
Pilot whales, along with all marine mammals are strictly protected under New Zealand law.