48 whales beached in New Zealand

Monday, January 25, 2010

Authorities have said that 48 whales near Christchurch, New Zealand were beached yesterday. Fifteen of them died, although the other 33 were re-floated out to sea, according to a conservation official.

The pilot whales beached themselves at Port Levy on South Island, but dozens of volunteers helped to try and get them back out to the open water out of the inlet, which is muddy and shallow. An alarm was called out at about 06.30 local time.

This is the third mass stranding on the country's coast this summer; 125 pilot whales died in the two other beachings earlier, and another 43 were re-floated out to the ocean.

"It's a very, very shallow bay in Port Levy, very muddy, so whether they were chasing food and got caught in the shallows, we don't know," remarked department community relations manager Grant Campbell to the Associated Press. "We thought everything was OK, we checked them in the boat and then we woke up this morning and saw a whole lot on the beach here."

Campbell also commented that the whales were up to five metres (seventeen feet) long, and some of the calves were between a metre and a metre and a half (three to five feet) long.

"We really just stood with them and as the tide came in and started floating, we were just able to push them out and away they went," said a local, Ted Haowden, as quoted by United Press International.

Locals are expected to bury the dead whales this afternoon. According to Campbell, autopsies will be performed on two of the fifteen dead whales.

Whales are frequently stranded on the beaches of New Zealand each summer, as they travel en route from Antarctica to breeding grounds. Scientists don't know why the whales become stranded.