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Nearly 500 pilot whales dead after two mass strandings in New Zealand

Hundreds of pilot whales are dead after two mass stranding events occurred days apart in New Zealand, conservation officials announced on Wednesday. The strandings continue a deadly trend that has rocked the Oceania region in recent weeks. 

New Zealand's Department of Conservation said Wednesday that the most recent strandings occurred just days apart. One group of approximately 240 pilot whales was found in the northwest of the nation's Chatham Island on October 7. A second stranded group of roughly the same number was found on October 10 at Waihere Bay on Pitt Island, which the department says is New Zealand's "most remote inhabited island, with limited communications and challenging logistics." 

Some of the whales were dead by the time conservation officials were able to respond to the scene. Those that were still alive, however, were euthanized to "minimize suffering," Dave Lundquist, technical advisor marine for the Department of Conservation said. 

"We do not actively refloat whales on the Chatham Islands due to the risk of shark attack to humans and the whales themselves, so euthanasia was the kindest option," Lundquist said. "All the stranded pilot whales are now deceased, and their bodies will be allowed to decompose naturally."

Project Jonah New Zealand, a marine mammal rescue and protection organization, said strandings are "complex phenomena" that have several factors dictating the outcome for the animals. An inability to quickly send out trained medics as well as marine predators — such as great white sharks, that reside close to shore and threaten both people and the whales — can make rescue missions difficult, the group said on Facebook.  

It's not uncommon for pilot whales to become stranded, particularly on the Chatham Islands, the group and conservation department said. 

"This is one of the larger events for mass strandings in New Zealand," Project Jonah wrote on Facebook. 

Department of Conservation (DOC) have confirmed numbers from this weeks mass pilot whale strandings on the Chatham...

Posted by Project Jonah New Zealand on Tuesday, October 11, 2022

This is also not the only mass stranding event to happen in Oceania in recent weeks. 

In September, 14 young sperm whales were found beached on King Island off Australia's southeast coast. None of those whales survived. Also last month, another 230 whales, believed to be pilot whales, were found nearby on Ocean Beach. Just 44 of those whales survived and were able to be released back into deep waters, local group Marine Conservation Program later said. 

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