Another 51 whales die in latest New Zealand mass stranding | News | DW | 30.11.2018
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Another 51 whales die in latest New Zealand mass stranding

It is the fifth incident of this kind to happen in less than a week. Scientists believe the strandings were not linked, and say a variety of factors could have caused them.

Whales continue to die on New Zealand's beaches, as a new mass stranding on the remote Chatham Islands on Thursday killed 51 pilot whales.

Over 90 cetaceans beached themselves on Thursday at Hanson Bay, of which 51 died, the country's Department of Conservation said. Staff found that 40 of the whales had managed to return to the water.

The Chatham Islands had witnessed New Zealand's largest recorded stranding in 1918, which involved 1,000 whales.

Thursday's incident was the fifth of its kind in New Zealand in less than a week. One hundred and forty-five pilot whales were found dead on Stewart Island on Saturday, while nine pygmy killer whales died the following day after being stranded at Ninety Mile Beach on the North Island.

Scientists don't know why whale strandings occur, but they believe they might be linked to a variety of concurrent factors.

According to Dr. Dave Lundquist, a technical adviser on marine species who spoke in a video released by the Conservation Department, whales could be navigating incorrectly or trying to escape predators, or some of them might be sick or injured. He said man-made causes like underwater noise could also contribute.

Lundquist also said there was no evidence to suggest the strandings in New Zealand were linked, despite the cases appearing to be close together both in terms of time and location.

Karen Stockin, a marine mammal scientist at Massey University, said that while whale strandings are common in New Zealand during the Southern Hemisphere's spring and summer months, such a cluster of incidents in a short period of time is unusual.

She said New Zealand had registered some of the warmest ocean temperatures on record, and she believed this was affecting whale behavior.

"I suspect a lot of that has been driven by the warmer sea surface temperatures that we're seeing at the moment," she said. 

Stockin said the higher ocean temperatures were "likely affecting where the prey is moving and as a consequence we're seeing prey moving and [whale] species following."

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