SYDNEY – At least 19 pilot whales have died after being stranded on the northern coast of New Zealand, even as rescue teams were able to save at least a dozen of the stranded animals, authorities said on Sunday.
The department of conservation had reported on Saturday that a group of pilot whales had beached near the city of Coromandel, on the North Island, over the weekend as the high tide receded.
“Sadly overnight around 19 whales split from the pod and stranded on a rocky headland. These whales have died,” tweeted Project Jonah, a nonprofit which assisted the authorities in the rescue effort.
However, the department of conservation said that “the majority of the stranded whales have rejoined the pod this morning and have been chaperoned out to deep water.”
The long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) were part of a pod of around 60 animals that was seen swimming close to the Coromandel coast over the weekend, out of which around half ended up beaching, while others were stuck in shallow waters.
DOC officials, Project Jonah volunteers, the local fire brigade and members of the community covered the whales in wet sheets and poured water on them as they waited for the high tide to return.
Once the tide returned on Saturday evening, the rescue teams shepherded the two groups together and guided them offshore.
“We will continue to closely monitor the pod. It is not uncommon for pilot whales to strand several times across a number of days,” the conservation authorities said.
The incident comes nearly a month after around 380 pilot whales died after beaching on the western coast of the Australian island of Tasmania.
The largest recorded stranding in the world occurred in 1918 when about 1,000 pilot whales were trapped off the Chatham Islands in southeastern New Zealand.
Long-finned pilot whales are a protected species belonging to the dolphin family.
Although there are no official figures, scientists estimate that there are about 200,000 specimens of long-finned pilot whales distributed in the North Atlantic and in the southern ocean waters that border Antarctica.
Scientists have not been able to determine the reasons why whales become stranded in shallow waters en masse after deviating from their routes.
However, there is a possibility that they get lost as they are attracted to noise pollution.