Monday, December 28, 2009

Santa Forgot The Whales...?

Whale rescuers, ColvilleA bad weekend for whales in New Zealand, with two mass strandings over Christmas...
On Boxing Day (26 Dec.), 105 long-finned pilot whales beached at Farewell Spit near Nelson at the top of the South Island. Most were already dead when DOC staff reached them and, because they'd been out of the water a long time, the extremely distressed remainder had to be euthanised.
The very next day (27 Dec.) at the other end of the country, 63 cows were trapped by the tide in Colville Bay, Coromandel Peninsula. Luckily a large crowd of 300 holidaymakers was able to refloat 42 of them - one whale gave birth in the shallows soon afterwards.
This is Stranding Season in NZ, and Farewell Spit - with its long shelving coastline - is a notorious beaching site. Meanwhile, that was the Coromandel Peninsula's fourth mass stranding in the past 20 years.
Besides illness and injury, whales strand because of landforms and the tide. Regular stranding points around the world all have the same characteristics – a thin wedge of land/sand, possibly curved around (exactly like Farewell Spit). Couple that with incoming/outgoing tides churning up the sand, and the whales’ sonar can’t read the nearby land.
NZ has the highest number of strandings in the world but also the highest rescue success rate: 95%. As one who's attended a stranding, I can personally vouch that a whale rescue attempt is a very tiring and emotional experience: one those holidaymakers will never forget.

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