Marine biologists are baffled by the mysterious deaths of nine orca whales stranded on New Zealand's Southland beach on Feb 12. New Zealand experts continue to investigate and conduct scientific testing to determine the cause.
Nine orca whales, including a calf, had died while beached on Te WaeWae Bay overnight. The deaths of the orca whales were described as a tragedy for the entire species in New Zealand. According to reports, the population of orca whales in New Zealand waters is estimated to be less than 200. The stranded pod of whales accounted for five per cent of the total population in the country, but New Zealand scientists have been unable to identify the dead whales.
Did earthquakes cause the stranding?
Orca Research Trust founder and whale expert Dr Ingrid Visser said it was possible the whales came from southern waters and became stranded on the bay. Dr Visser has been working with orca whales in the country for about 20 years. She said scientists still have no explanation why the whales became stranded.
Ms Visser declared the recent deaths of the orca whales is the "third largest stranding" of the species in New Zealand. When seen from an international perspective, it could be included in the world's top 10.
Ms Visser said many people thought the stranding was linked to seismic activities like earthquakes, but she said they won't know anything until test results and the investigation are done.
Department of Conservation spokesman Reuben Williams told AFP the orca whales were already dead by the time his group arrived. According to Mr Williams, it was common for pilot whales to be stranded in New Zealand, but it was considered strange for nine orca whales to be beached at the same time.
Mr Williams said one carcass was retrieved for research, while the rest will be disposed. The local Maori people who consider all animals sacred will be consulted.
Meanwhile, a woman in Southland was able to embrace a dying orca as it lay stranded on the beach. The whale was the only one alive at the time since eight whales were already dead. Debra Drain was among the first to reach the nine whales near the Blue Cliffs. Her husband, Jeff, saw the stranded orca whales while he was walking. Ms Drain said several residents were already rushing to the beach and discovered that eight of the whales were dead, while the last one was crying out.
Ms Drain saw the whales pushed up against the rocks with flesh torn from their bodies. She saw the last whale crying out and couldn't help but hug it.
According to Discovery, orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family. They have no known natural predators and can grow to 9.8 metres or 32 feet in length. The orca population is the most widely distributed marine species in the world. They live in pods of up to 50 orcas.