51 whales die after mass stranding off New Zealand

Up to 145 whales were discovered on the shores of Stewart Island last Saturday evening

Over the past week, a string of tragedies have unfolded on the beaches of New Zealand. It was chose to euthanise this whale, due to its very poor condition.

In a third beaching, 10 pygmy killer whales died in the country's northern most region, Northland, on Sunday. The department said one beached whale remained alive, which staff made a decision to euthanize due to its poor condition.

DoC Rakiura operations manager Ren Leppens said half of the whales at Stewart Island had already died by the time they were found and due to the condition of the remaining whales and the remote, hard to access location, the decision was made to euthanise the remainder. The rest were in poor condition, and hard to access because of the remote location in which they had surfaced.

"This is always an terrible decision to have to make".

More heartbreak soon followed.

In addition to the strandings at Chatham and Stewart Islands this week, a group of 12 pygmy killer whales also beached in New Zealand's far north and a sperm whale and a pygmy sperm whale grounded themselves in separate incidents on the North Island.

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Despite the efforts of 200 staff and volunteers, who managed to refloat eight of the whales after transporting them to a beach where conditions were calmer, all but one of the whales ended up stranding themselves again by Wednesday.

The dead whales were part of a pod of 80-90 whales spotted late Thursday on the shore of remote Chatham Island, about 800 kilometres east of the South Island, the Department of Conservation said.

Around 30 to 40 of those whales were able to re-float themselves, however all but one of the others had died.

The forces driving the recent strandings remain unclear. Scientists don't really know why the tragic events occur, but a number of factors could be at play.

Man-made causes, such as the sonar used by military vessels, have also been linked with the kinds of disorientation that can cause mass strandings.

'We're just going into stranding season now, this is only the beginning of it and we're very mindful of the fact that this a very busy start, ' she said. "It seems to be a species that is particularly susceptible to these mass strandings of live animals".

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