Nearly 500 pilot whales have been found stranded on two remote New Zealand beaches, and, unfortunately, none could be saved.
In what seems like a bizarre, naturally occurring event, reports indicate that 477 pilot whales became stranded on the Chatham Islands, which is located approximately 500 miles from New Zealand's main islands. The event has been described by Daren Grover, the general manager of Project Jonah, a non-profit group that focuses on saving whales, as a "heartbreaking" loss as none of the whales could be saved, and the ones that were found still alive on the beach had to be euthanized.
While you may think this event is extremely unusual, it comes only two weeks after 200 pilot whales beached themselves in Australia on a remote Tasmanian beach. According to Dave Lunquist, a technical marine advisor for the Department of Conservation, said that refloating pilot whales isn't conducted on Chatman Islands due to the risk of shark attacks on humans, leaving only euthanasia as the "kindest option".
Researchers aren't exactly sure what caused these pilot whales, or any other whales, to strand themselves on the beach. Scientists know that there is plenty of food around Chatman Islands for pilot whales, and that their echolocation isn't reliably informing them that they are running out of water. Grover explains that the whales hunt around the island, moving closer and closer to the shore, eventually becoming disorientated with their direction. The tide then drops from below them, and before the whales are even aware of what has happened, they are stranded on the beach.
Unfortunately, events such as these aren't even unusual in New Zealand, as mass strandings of pilot whales are deemed reasonably common, especially during the summer months. Furthermore, due to the population of just 600 on the Chatman Islands, and its remote location, the whale carcasses won't be dragged out to sea or buried, but left to naturally decompose over time. Grover said that "Nature is a great recycler, and all the energy stored within the bodies of all the whales will be returned to nature quite quickly."
In other science news, a team of researchers have discovered some interesting factoids about the 100+ humans that were sacrificed in the Midnight Terror Cave more than 1,000 years ago. More on that story can be found below.