Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Pod of 90 pilot whales beach in New Zealand

Nelson - New Zealand officials report pilot whales have beached close to Farewell Spit, Golden Bay, in the northern part of New Zealand's South Island. This is the second time pilot whales have beached in this area in a month, and the third time in two months.

BBC says conservation workers are keeping the pod of about 90 whales cool by keeping them covered and watered. According to AFP, the conservation staff hopes the whales would refloat themselves at high tide later in the evening. ABC Online reports that 22 of the whales have died.
Project Jonah chief executive Kimberly Muncaster, said the whales became stranded at Farewell Spit just after midday. Herald Sun reports she said: "It was very sad. But there was nothing more that we could have done." Project Jonah marine mammal medics have given the whales first aid.
In a similar incident early in the month, seven died out of 25 that beached. In November, 47 whales died out of 65 that got stranded.

Regional conservation area manager John Mason, said: "We generally get one stranding a summer and we occasionally get two, but since I've been here in the past 10 years, we've never had three." According to ABC Online, Mason said: "The hope is they'll refloat themselves at high tide tonight...Given our past experience, we're not overly optimistic that this is going to happen, so we'll be out there tomorrow morning at first light, and if they're still there, we'll work towards having an assisted refloat with our volunteers."

Sky News reports that Muncaster also said: "There's a small chance the whales may refloat on tonight's high tide at 11pm, but we will be back at first light to assess the situation and assist DOC (the Department of Conservation) in their rescue response. Hopefully we'll be able to keep as many whales as possible alive until nightfall."

Collingwood - Efforts are ongoing to refloat a pod of pilot whales stranded on the beach at Golden Bay, NZ. Forty whales that were refloated on yesterday's high tide restranded themselves.
For the 99 pilot whales that stranded themselves on Monday at Farewell Spit on New Zealand's South Island, their fight for survival is matched only by the massive efforts of the dedicated volunteers trying to save them. Fifty to 90 Project Jonah volunteers have worked alongside the Department of Conservation to provide first aid to the whales since they stranded Monday, unfortunately 34 died overnight and another 40 remained stranded and still in danger.
Volunteers did glean some comfort from the 17 whales who managed to refloat themselves overnight. Project Jonah said the whales continued "to make their way out of the bay and were last reported to be swimming strongly with about 28 metres of water beneath them." Unfortunately, added the organization, whose members freely donate their time to helping these marine mammals, 40 pilot whales who were actively refloated, restranded themselves on the beach. Thirty-five remained alive this afternoon.

Strandings at Golden Bay are not uncommon said Project Jonah, but refloating the whales is difficult in an area where tides come in and recede rapidly. CEO, Kimberly Muncaster said the 40 pilot whales refloated, "didn’t move quickly enough in the right direction and got caught on the sand."
According to the American Cetacean Society, pilot whales are a part of the dolphin family and second only in size to killer whales. Males are much larger than females, with adults measuring up to 20 feet (6.1 m) and weighing up to 3 tons. Females, they add, "measure up to 16 feet (4.9 m) and weigh up to 1.5 tons."

Kerry O'Brien, a Marine Mammal Medic volunteer, who is currently in the far north of NZ and prepping for potential strandings there, has colleagues in Golden Bay helping the pilot whales. She told Digital Journal:

It is a highly dangerous time for cetaceans when they strand. They come in fast and furious with all their body weight, hence the injuries. They can also roll over one another and get entangled causing more injuries and can also suffocate or drown.

EMB: How do medics help the whales?

KO: If medics are alerted to a possible stranding, its a lot better to be able to assist them at this early stage rather than what happens in remote areas when they are found a day later, and are so are very unwell. This usually means a higher mortality rate.
EMB: What happens to the whales when they strand?

KO: Being out of the water is not natural for them. Being pelagic, they only know deep water so it's all very stressful for them. Body heat rises, their skin dries out and they suffer from sunburn. Their skin is very, very delicate and we must be extremely cautious when we handle them.

EMB: So how do you treat them?

KO: It's airway clear, keeping them wet and cool (continuously) protecting them from other animals or people. We keep them as calm as we possibly can. I find once a whale gets to know me, they calm down after a while and respond to calm quiet voices. As the hours pass, I find they love a lullaby or gentle humming. Treatment does get more complicated depending how long they are beached.

The major problem these heavy mammals face, is not a simple one. No longer supported by the buoyancy of the water, their weight crushes their own internal organs. This makes a rapid return to the ocean even more urgent.

Despite theories, nobody has a concrete answer as to why cetaceans mass strand and although it happens frequently, it is still a scarcely understood phenomenon.
Project Jonah is now reporting that the 34 remaining whales are back in the water after being refloated again. "One whale is in a Project Jonah pontoon," they said, "and is acting as a lure to the rest of the pod as we try to encourage the animals out to sea."

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