New Zealand warns of exploding whale carcasses after mass stranding

PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON - New Zealand authorities were cutting holes in 300 whale carcasses on Monday (Feb 13), popping the dead animals "like balloons" to avoid them exploding as they decompose on Golden Bay after more than 600 whales became stranded.

Hundreds of rescuers managed to save around 400 pilot whales on the South Island beach on the weekend after one of New Zealand's largest whale strandings.

But hundreds of whales died on the beach and the Department of Conservation (DOC) cordoned off the carcasses and urged the public to call them if they found carcasses that had floated off the beach and washed up on nearby shores.

"The area is currently closed to the public because of the risk from whales exploding," the conservation department said in a statement.

Whales wash up dead on New Zealand beach

  • Most of the more than 200 whales who became stranded on New Zealand's notorious Farewell Spit have been able to refloat themselves, conservation officials said.
  • However they had not left the area and there were fears they could become stuck on the coastline again.
  • About 17 other whales from the pod which beached themselves remain on shore near the carcasses of hundreds of other pilot whales that died in mass strandings over the past three days.
  • "The 240-odd whales that had stranded between Puponga and Pakawau have mostly refloated themselves on last night's high tide and are milling around in shallow water," Department of Conservation spokesman Herb Christophers said.
  • The environmental group Project Jonah, which is assisting with the rescue, has a spotter plane flying over the bay to keep track of the whales.
  • The latest stranding was a separate pod from the initial group of 400 whales stranded on Thursday night at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay on the northwest tip of the South Island.
  • The shallow, sweeping spit is believed to interfere with the whales' navigation systems, causing regular mass strandings along its 26-km shoreline.
  • Stranded pilot whales are seen on the beach in Golden Bay, New Zealand after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings on Friday, in this still frame taken from video released February 10, 2017.
  • Stranded pilot whales are seen on the beach in Golden Bay, New Zealand after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings on Friday, in this still frame taken from video released February 10, 2017.
  • People stand next to stranded pilot whales seen in the water on the beach in Golden Bay, New Zealand after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings on Friday, in this still frame taken from video released February 10, 2017.
  • This picture from Radio New Zealand taken and released on February 10, 2017 shows people tending to pilot whales, which beached themselves overnight, at Farewell Spit in the Golden Bay region at the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island.

Workers in protective clothing would spend the day cutting holes in the whale carcasses, "like popping balloons" with knives and two-metre needles to release internal gases that build up pressure, a DOC spokesman told local radio.

It would take several months for the bodies to decompose and turn into skeletons.

The surviving whales were last seen swimming 6km offshore on Sunday evening, according to DOC.

Last Thursday a pod of about 400 whales became stranded, with a second pod of more than 200 whales stranded on Saturday.

The precise cause of the whale strandings was not known.

Beached whales are not uncommon on Golden Bay. Its shallow muddy waters confuse the whale's sonar, leaving it vulnerable to stranding by an ebb tide, according to marine environmental organisation Project Jonah.

Pilot whales are not listed as endangered, but little is known about their population in New Zealand waters.

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