Over 30 Dead Whales Found at Death Trap Beach Blessed and Left to Decompose

Over 30 pilot whales found dead at a death trap beach in New Zealand have been blessed by local people and left to decompose.

A pod of 36 whales was found washed-up nearly two miles down the Farewell Spit beach in Golden Bay, in the north of New Zealand's South Island, on Thursday, the country's Department of Conservation said on Facebook. The beach is a notorious spot for marine wildlife strandings.

Rangers from the department rushed to gather volunteers and workers from marine mammal protection charity Project Jonah New Zealand to assess the dead whales and attempt to get any survivors back into the water.

In total, at least 31 whales died in the stranding, Project Jonah said on Facebook. Rescuers tried to re-float five whales found still alive, however, on Friday, two more whales were found dead. The charity said on Facebook they were likely the same ones rangers had tried to re-float.

The project said it was "a very sad outcome after a huge day."

On Monday, local news outlet Stuff reported that the dead whales have been secured on a cut-off area of the beach to decompose naturally.

The carcasses were also blessed by members of Manawhenua ki Mohua, an organization representing indigenous Māori people in the Golden Bay that is mandated to receive fisheries assets in the area.

Mass strandings regularly occur at the remote beach. In 2017, 400 pilot whales were stranded on the beach, which was the largest stranding in New Zealand for 100 years. According to AFP, over 10 pilot whale strandings have occurred there in the last 15 years.

"As heartbreaking as it is, whale strandings are a natural phenomenon," the Department of Conservation said in a Facebook post.

Scientists have been unable to determine exactly what causes mass strandings. However, some wildlife officials believe whales strand at Farewell Spit beach because it creates a shallow seabed with large sand flats. This may cause whales who venture into the area to become confused and disorientated.

Pilot whales in particular may be more susceptible to becoming stuck on the shore as they are highly social mammals. Pilot whales often remain with the pod they were birthed in for their entire life. This may mean that if one whale out of a pod becomes stranded, the rest will follow, leading to a mass stranding event.

Dave Winterburn from the Department of Conservation told the BBC that there are periods where no strandings occur on the beach, and then they get "a couple in a row."

"That's just the way things go," he said.

Winterburn told the broadcasting service that there are no plans to put in protections for whales in the area. He said the large size of the area made it "completely impractical."

Stranded Pilot Whales
Rangers tried to save any survivors after a pod of 36 whales was found washed-up on Farewell Spit beach in Golden Bay, New Zealand, on March 17. Department of Conservation/Facebook