What’s the story?
At 34km long, Farewell Spit in New Zealand’s South Island is one of the longest natural sandspits in the world. It’s also well known for its mass strandings of whales.
Last week, 50 volunteer rescuers had their work cut out as a pod of around 50 long-finned pilot whales first beached themselves on Monday. The rescuers were able to push 40 of the beached whales back to sea by the evening, but they swam back ashore overnight.
Eventually, the team of volunteers was able to push 28 survivors back out to sea, where they remained close to shore, raising fears they could beach themselves again; however, there have been no reports of further beaching since.
Why do whales beach themselves?
Beaching is when whales become stuck on sand. Pilot whales, which are not considered endangered, are known to be more prone to getting beached.
Experts are still unsure as to why whales beach themselves, but there are a few theories.
If a lone whale is beached, it might have become sick and when pushed in by currents, too weak and ill to swim back out.
Sonar sound waves or ‘pulses’ from boats have been linked to whales becoming stranded. Whales use sonar pulses to work out where they are and where they are going, so some scientists believe when the whale sonar and the boat sonar cross paths, it can cause the whale to become confused or injured.
Another theory is that changes in the environment – such as changes in food stocks, water temperatures and water pollution – can cause whales to behave differently.
And because whales are social animals that travel in pods, scientists believe if one whale in the pod is affected by illness, confusion, environment changes or sonar disruption, others in its pod will copy its behaviour, and that’s when multi-whale strandings can happen.
How can I help beached whales?
Did you know you can train to be a Marine Mammal Medic? Our editor, Charli, is one! She trained with the British Diver’s Marine Life Rescue in the UK, but organisations like ORRCA in Australia and Project Jonah in New Zealand offer similar qualifications.
Do you have a planet-positive news story you think we should share here on Earth Collective? Send your news and feature tips to our editor Charli at firstname.lastname@example.org.