Around 477 pilot whales have died after stranding themselves on two New Zealand beaches.
Daren Grover, the general manager of the nonprofit Project Jonah, told The Associated Press that none of the whales could be refloated and all either died naturally or were euthanized on the Chatham Islands. The islands are located around 500 miles east of the country’s main lands.
According to the Department of Conservation, 232 whales stranded themselves Friday at Tupuangi Beach and another 245 at Waihere Bay on Monday.
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The deaths follow another mass stranding event in which about 200 pilot whales died in Australia on a Tasmanian beach.
While Project Jonah helps rescue whales, it noted in a Facebook post that a small population, the inability to quickly mobilize trained medics and the risk of predators close to shore pose a threat to both rescuers and whales.
“These events are tough, challenging situations,” the local Department of Conservation said in a statement. “Although they are natural occurrences, they are still sad and difficult for those helping.”
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Scientists don’t know exactly what causes the whales to beach, although it appears their location systems can get confused by gently sloping sandy beaches.
Mass strandings of pilot whales are reasonably common in New Zealand, especially during the summer months.
“They rely on their echolocation and yet it doesn’t tell them that they are running out of water,” Grover said. “They come closer and closer to shore and become disoriented. The tide can then drop from below them and before they know it, they’re stranded on the beach.”
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He added that, because of the remote location of the beaches, the whale carcasses will be left to decompose.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.