100 Whales Die in Mass Stranding

Nearly 100 pilot whales have died after becoming stranded on a beach in New Zealand as great white sharks stalked the sea waters.

The whales were found stranded on the Chatham Islands, with the Department of Conservation (DOC) unable to reach them for three hours due to their location and a power cut. The island is located 800km east of New Zealand's South Island and according to authorities 97 whales and three dolphins died after getting stuck on Waitangi West Beach. Upon the arrival of officials at the scene, most of the whales had died.

DOC Biodiversity Ranger, Jemma Welch, said: "Only 26 of the whales were still alive at this point, the majority of them appearing very weak, and were euthanized due to the rough sea conditions and almost certainty of there being great white sharks in the water which are brought in by a stranding like this."

The whales will be left to decompose naturally, with a ceremony later being held to honor them. It can take anywhere from several days to weeks for a beached whale to die, as it is slowly crushed to death under the weight of its own body, without the seawater to support itself.

Pilot whales are small toothed, and have a bulging forehead and pointed flippers. They feed off squid and live in groups of dozens.

Whales stranded
Nearly 100 whales have died after being stranded Department of Conservation, New Zealand

It is not the first time that whales have become stranded on Chatham Island, with up to 1,000 animals dying in a single stranding in 1918.

It comes after 380 whales died in September after becoming stranded off the coast of the Australian island of Tasmania. So far, scientists are unable to explain why whales, which travel together in pods, sometimes beach themselves.

According to a study in the journal Current Biology, it was suggested that solar storms could throw gray whales off navigation and cause their stranding.

The study highlighted the possibility that Gray whales used magnetic fields to navigate and that solar storms, which bombard the earth with unusually high levels of electromagnetic radiation, and which can interfere with power grids and satellites, could disorient the whales.

Ellen Coombs, a researcher at University College London, told National Geographic: "Although this paper does not offer conclusive evidence for magnetoreception in these whales, it does add an indication in this direction because it removes some other possible causes of strandings such as bycatch, ship strike, or obvious illness."