21 January 2011
More than 500 Project Jonah marine mammal medics were put on standby this morning following a call from the Department of Conservation (DOC).
As trained volunteers awaited a formal situational assessment from lead government agency, DOC, hope turned to despair as reports of unfavourable on the ground conditions came to light in addition to a poor health assessment of the surviving 10 whales. Project Jonah CEO, Kimberly Muncaster said it is “always devastating when whales strand and cannot be saved. It’s a sad reality, however, that sometimes some whales are in such a poor condition that they can't be refloated or that forces of nature conspire to make it difficult or impossible to do so.”
Today’s mass stranding at Parengarenga Harbour marks the third mass stranding in the Far North since August 2010.
When DOC first arrived on the scene this afternoon, 14 pilot whales were already dead with the surviving 10 whales difficult to access amongst the rocks and mangroves. It is unknown exactly how or when the whales became stranded, but it is believed that they may have come in on one of yesterday’s high tides.
How you can help
Ms Muncaster says that today’s stranding highlights the need for coastal New Zealanders to be extra-vigilant over the summer season and to keep an eye on their beaches “We need people to contact us or DOC immediately if they see any unusual whale behavior close to shore or discover a dolphin or whale stranded. The sooner we’re notified, the greater the chance of us saving them” says Ms Muncaster who highlights the fact that whilst New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates in the world, it also has one of the highest rescue success rates.
What to look out for and who to call
Pilot whales are the species most commonly associated with mass strandings in New Zealand. They travel in large groups of up to 10 – 60 but and will often merge with other groups to form much larger pods. Pilot whales are an oceanic species which venture occasionally into coastal waters. Observation of this species close to shore should be reported immediately to 0800 DOC HOT or 0800 4 WHALE. Pilot whales can be identified by their dark grey / black colouring, bulbous head and low, long and broad-based dorsal fin. Male pilot whales can grow up to 6 metres long.