Whale Strandings In New Zealand Likely Linked To Warming Ocean Temperatures

After seeing a pod of 145 pilot whales die just a week ago, New Zealand has had another stranding of beached pilot whales after 50 more have been found and makes it the fifth stranding in less than a week.

The stunning deaths of the these marine mammals have many experts concerned and they believe they have figured out the reason for the deaths: rising ocean temperatures.

The most recent death came from part of a pod of roughly 90 whales that were spotted the day prior to the strandings off the shores of the remote Chatham Island, according to the Department of Conservations

By the time the rangers arrived to the incident, 50 had already died, one remained stranded but alive and the rest had managed to refloat themselves and return to the waters. The surviving whale was in very bad condition and had to be euthanized.

While whale strandings can be common in New Zealand, the cluster of incidents in such a short timeframe is exceptionally unusual according to Karen Stockin, a marine mammals scientist at Massey University.

Due to the strandings of other species such as pygmy killer whales and sperm whales, which are do not normally become beached, and the sighting of species that are rarely seen in New Zealand waters such as the blue whale, warming waters due to climate change are the likely reason for death and devastation occurring in New Zealand.

“We’ve had an unusual week, which we haven’t got to the bottom of, and it’s fair to say it’s been an entirely unusual year,” Stockin told AFP. “”I suspect a lot of that has been driven by the warmer sea surface temperatures that we’re seeing at the moment. We definitely have a spike in temperatures, that’s likely affecting where the prey is moving and as a consequence we’re seeing prey moving and (whale) species following.”

New Zealand’s summer, the peak time for whales to beach, begins on Saturday and Stockin said more strandings were likely.

“We’re just going into stranding season now, this is only the beginning of it and we’re very mindful of the fact that this a very busy start,” she said.


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