In what became a Golden Bay community event, hundreds of people turned up at Rototai beach to see and touch three dead sperm whales that had become stranded.
The whales, which ranged in length from 14 to 17 metres long were located about one kilometre out on tidal flats from the beach carpark.
Local iwi gathered to bless the three whales, which were towed by tug boat to Farewell Spit last night, once the tide was high enough to move them.
Department of Conservation biodiversity programme manager Hans Stoffregen said DOC had received a phone call from Rototai residents saying there were whales milling about at sea.
“This morning we got a call from residents saying they were stranded.”
Golden Bay kaumatua John Ward-Holmes said iwi would later harvest the teeth and jawbone, which were regarded as “taonga”. He said local iwi Ngati Tama, Te Ati Awa and Ngati Rarua were kaitiaki of the teeth and jawbone, and that iwi were working in partnership with DOC on the whale stranding.
While smaller pilot whales strand in Golden Bay every year, sperm whales, which are the largest of the toothed whales, aren’t such a common sight in Golden Bay.
Stoffregen said the last sperm whale to be washed up in Golden Bay was “Tamati”, who stranded at Puponga in 2007.
Rototai resident Gaya Brabant said she and her family noticed the whales offshore last night and called DOC. Initially she thought they were playing. She said her son saw six whales further out to sea.
She wondered if a large amount of blue bottles had played any role in attracting the whales to come into the shallow waters.
About 36 pilot whales that had become stranded in the Eastern Bay of Plenty in New Zealand have died.
Two whale pods beached themselves in the Ohiwa harbour on the north-east coast on Monday.
Wildlife conservationists launched a rescue operation and helped one pod to be refloated on Tuesday, while 21 more whales were successfully herded out to sea on Wednesday.
The reasons for mass pilot whale strandings are not well understood.
Pilot whales are particularly prone to stranding behaviour. The largest known pilot whale stranding involved an estimated 1,000 whales at the Chatham Islands in 1918, according to the DOC.
Steve Brightwell from the DOC said the whales came into Ohiwa harbour after one of them was unwell and beached itself, reported Radio New Zealand.
Eleven of the whales were euthanized on welfare grounds on Tuesday, the Department of Conservation (DOC) said. About 25 pilot whales were found dead early Wednesday morning.
At about 05:00 local time on Wednesday (16:00 GMT Tuesday) volunteer medics from Project Jonah, a non-profit organisation, along with the DOC began an operation to guide those whales that were still alive back out to sea.
“We did it! All 22 whales were shepherded through the mouth of the harbour to the ocean and were last seen heading towards deeper water,” Project Jonah said on Facebook.
New Zealand on average has more whales stranding themselves than any other country in the world, Daren Grover, general manager of Project Jonah told the BBC.
“It’s something we have lived with and we are quite geared up to respond to,” he said. “Today was a great effort – all those that were alive were refloated.”
Scientists believe individual whales strand themselves because they have a disease and are coming to the end of their life.
However, there are numerous theories around mass stranding including their highly sociable behaviour. One theory is that as one whale becomes stranded the other members of its pod try to help and become stranded themselves.
Pilot whales are the largest member of the dolphin family. They get their name from the fact that researchers believe that each pod follows a “pilot” in the group.
Their distinguishing feature is a large bulbous forehead, which protrudes beyond the mouth and small beak.
Twenty-five dead pilot whales were discovered Thursday near Kice Island in southwest Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
They were part of a pod of whales first seen swimming around Gordon Pass in Naples in Collier County on Sunday, NOAA Fisheries Southeast marine mammal stranding coordinator Blair Mase said.
Biologists marked the whales, which were spotted again off Marco Pass near Marco Island on Monday. A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission boat stayed with the group for much of Monday, when they were two miles off-shore, before officials stopped monitoring them.
But early Thursday afternoon, officials received a report from a boater who saw the whales on Kice Island, Mase said.
Mase said the whales came in on the high seas and were beached on Kice Island. It is on the south side of Caxambas Pass, which divides Marco Island and Kice Island, NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman Kim Amendola said. They were discovered 16 miles south of where they were originally spotted on Sunday.
A FWC field biologist went out and confirmed that the whales were all dead, and had been there for about 24 hours, Mase said. The biologist was accompanied by FWC law enforcement.
Sixteen of the whales were females, and nine were males, NOAA Fisheries said as it gave an increased death toll late Thursday afternoon.
Officials initially said that about 20 whales were found.
Earlier this week, four pilot whales died and four more were euthanized around Lover’s Key near Fort Myers in Lee County.
Mase said the necropsies on those eight whales were completed Wednesday. Some of the whales looked emaciated, and some appeared to be in decent condition, she said.
“They did all have empty stomachs, which is something that we were suspecting,” she said.
Five of the whales were males and three were females, including one that was pregnant, Amendola said.
In December, 51 pilot whales were found stranded in Everglades National Park, and 22 of them died. No cause of deaths has been determined yet for those whales, Mase said Thursday.
Eight pilot whales found beached in shallow waters off Florida’s southwest coast will be examined in the hopes of unraveling an underwater mystery as to how they died, authorities said Tuesday
The whales where found in the Lovers Key State Park, near Fort Myers, said. Erin Fougeres, marine mammal biologist and stranding program coordinator for NOAA Fisheries.
Pilot whales live in deep water and usually make their home at least 20 miles off the coast of Florida, so when they swim inland, that’s often a sign they are suffering from some kind of toxicity or disease. The whales tend to travel in pods of a couple dozen or more and follow one or two leaders, or navigators.
Four were found dead and two others were euthanized and taken by truck to a lab Monday night; two more stranded in shallow waters Tuesday were being euthanized.
“They are in very poor condition,” Fougeres said of the stranded whales. They are thin, have not been eating normally and are dehydrated, she said.
Kevin Baxter of the Florida Wildlife Research Institute said the state does not know the location of other whales spotted Monday, and that helicopter pilots are searching for the main pod in the Gulf of Mexico.
Veterinarians from the Mote Marine Laboratory, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and University of Florida are also involved in finding the missing pod and determining how or why the whales died.
In December, more than 50 pilot whales got stranded in Everglades National Park. Several died.
Farther south, officials had been monitoring two dozen more pilot whales off the coast of Collier County, but Blair Mase, a regional stranding coordinator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service, said those whales were last seen about 2 miles offshore Monday, a sign that they were not in immediate danger.
Nearly 50 pilot whales have re-stranded on Farewell Spit, frustrating efforts by experts and hundreds of volunteers to steer them back out to sea.
The Department of Conservation says 48 whales were stranded at Triangle Flat, near the base of the spit, about 6:30pm today, after spending a few hours out in Golden Bay.
They will be cared for until dark by around 40 volunteers and it is expect the whales will refloat on the incoming tide.
DOC rangers will look for the whales at daybreak tomorrow.
“It is unsafe to attempt to refloat whales in darkness,” DOC spokeswoman Trish Grant said.
DOC rangers, Project Jonah volunteers and others have been trying over the weekend to refloat the dozens of whales.
The pod of about 50 had spent a few hours in Golden Bay this afternoon, before they re-stranded.
That was despite eight whales, which had stayed close to the shore, being put down to prevent them causing the bulk of the pod to re-strand.
Today, 40 whales were refloated, 30 swam further out to sea but 10 whales hung back swimming parallel to the coastline. They then re-stranded. The other whales at sea then headed back to shore, also re-stranding on Farewell Spit.
About 100 volunteers have assisted in caring for the whales and refloating them, many of them trained Project Jonah volunteers.
A total of 71 whales were found on the beach this morning, including eight dead, spread over 1.6km.
This morning, 53 whales stranded, including 13 which died.
The whales are believed to be part of the same pod seen off Taupata Point, south of Farewell Spit, on Tuesday. Later that day, 13 whales stranded on the spit – none of which survived.
Pilot whales regularly become stranded on Farewell Spit. On January 6, 39 whales stranded there and died or were put down.