A pod of pilot whales stranded at the southern end of Mason Bay on Stewart Island, this morning.

Two overseas visitors discovered a pod of pilot whales, stranded at the southern end of Mason Bay on Stewart Island, this morning. The pair, who had tramped into Mason Bay hut on the west coast of Stewart Island / Rakiura the previous day found the pod of 107 Pilot Whales dead and dying at the southern end of the beach near Cavalier Creek. It was several hours before they could raise the alarm via the hut ranger back at Mason Bay hut.

Stranded whales at Mason Bay.
Stranded whales at Mason Bay

Two Department of Conservation staff immediately flew to the popular west coast beach to assess the situation. Once there, they found the whales in water, but stranded high up on the beach with the tide just starting to recede.

“About half of the whales were still alive when we arrived,” said biodiversity programme manager Brent Beaven, from the site.

“However we were quickly aware that it would be at least 10 – 12 hours before we could attempt to refloat them and that given the hot, dry conditions many more would soon perish,” Mr Beaven added.

“With just five people currently on site and the tide on its way out, we saw little hope of keeping the animals alive until enough rescuers could be flown in to assist,” Mr Beaven said.

Stranded whales.
Stranded whales

A storm warning issued for the area had added to the dangers of attempting a refloat at the next high tide, said Southern Islands Area Manager, Andy Roberts.

“We were worried that we would be endangering the lives of staff and volunteers if we attempted a refloat,” said Mr Roberts. “The sea conditions are likely to become very rough overnight.”

Mr Roberts added that the decision had been made to euthanize the remainder of the pilot whales.

“Euthanasia is a difficult decision but is made purely for the welfare of the animal involved. To prevent it from prolonged suffering,” Mr Roberts added. “Sadly 48 whales had to be put down.”

The whales will be left to decompose naturally on the beach, due to the remoteness of the site.

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Background information

51 species of marine mammal have been recorded in New Zealand waters (9 seals, 42 whale, dolphin or porpoise), this equates to approximately 60% of the species currently known to science on a worldwide basis. New Zealand is often referred to as the marine mammal capital of the world for this reason.

How you can help at a stranding:

  • Contact DOC immediately on 0800 DOCHOT (0800 362 468) or the nearest local DOC office
  • Keep animals cool and shaded. It’s advisable to cover the animals with wet sheets and use a bucket to pour water over the flippers and tail fluke. Be very careful not to cover or pour water into or near the blowhole.
  • Keep the animals as calm as possible by avoiding loud noises and excess movement around them.
  • Attempts should be made to move animals into an upright position if they are lying uncomfortably on their sides. Care should be taken not to damage flippers as you do so.
  • Whales should not be towed by their flippers or tails, but can be moved gently towards the water on tarpaulins or specially designed pontoons.
  • Stay well clear of the tail as whales can become agitated when stressed and will sometimes thrash about - whales are large wild animals and can inadvertently injure people by their movements.

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