The remains of a pod of 45 dolphins euthanised in Hawke’s Bay will be studied to try to learn more about their stranding.
The pod of 44 false killer whales and one bottlenose dolphin stranded at Taylor’s Bay near Māhia yesterday, then stranded again at an inaccessible reef point not long after being refloated.
Department of Conservation (DoC) operations manager Matt Tong said the samples were important because not a lot was known about false killer whales.
“False killer whales, we don’t know a huge amount about them and that’s why we’ve got a big team on site taking measurements and samples to try to understand more about these strandings. There’s a team from Auckland University alongside our own ranger team,” Tong said.
False killer whales are a dolphin that looks like a pilot whale but with a more slender and tapering head without grey or white colouring on their sides or top, Tong said.
Mana whenua, DoC and members of the scientific community went to the site today to take samples and measurements.
Local iwi Rongomaiwahine were currently planning for the next stage for the deceased animals.
Tong said the decision made to euthanise the mammals was distressing for the community.
“Their chances of survival were very slim. Where they re-stranded themselves it was a really rocky situation, a number of them were high and dry and in a really bad state, really scratched up and in a lot of distress,” Tong said.
“Our next potential opportunity to refloat them would have been 4pm this afternoon and the health and safety considerations of having a team down there overnight took priority, so we made the decision to put them out of their misery.”
A volunteer who has helped with beached whales said it was unusual for false killer whales to strand in a big pod.
Darren Grover from Project Jonah said the conditions for the whales were grim.
“When the whales were then discovered by DoC rangers, some of the whales had already died and they were seeing whales highly distressed. One of the responses to stress they have is thrashing their bodies around and being helpless, stuck up on the rocks, they were thrashing themselves around. They were injuring themselves,” Grover said.
There were a number of reasons the dolphins would come close to the shoreline, he said.
“They could be coming in, chasing food in the shallows. There could be illness or injury amongst the pod which causes them to slow down and come closer to shore. Mahia itself is a bit of a hot spot in New Zealand whale stranding. There’s an ocean current that runs along that coast and this hook of land does tend to catch them out,” Grover said.
He said the last false killer whale stranding happened eight years ago but involved just two animals on Christchurch’s New Brighton beach.