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Baby pilot whales drowned in stormy seas

Baby pilot whales drowned in stormy seas

An autopsy of two long-finned pilot whale calves found washed-up within 10 days of each shows they drowned shortly after birth during stormy weather.

Massey marine mammal pathologist Dr Wendi Roe says the aerated lungs of both calves showed they had surfaced after birth to take their first breath.

Dr Roe says neither had drunk any milk, which indicates the calves were unable to return to their mothers to feed.

“This supports the theory that they were born during a storm, and when they surfaced unaccompanied by their mothers for their first breath of air, they were buffeted about by strong seas and were unable to dive back down,” Dr Roe says.

The two calves were found on the Kapiti and New Plymouth coasts and bought to the University’s Institute of Veterinary Animal and Biomedical Sciences for autopsy by the Department of Conservation. Dr Roe says a third calf washed up on a South Island West Coast beach during the same period, but it was not recovered for autopsy, and it is possible that all the babies were from the same pod.

She says long-finned pilot whales are the most common mass stranders in New Zealand but it is uncommon to find single stranded animals. Scientists are keen to learn more about them, as there are morphological differences that indicate a possible species differentiation.

Tissue samples taken during the autopsy will be kept in the University’s archives for future reference by marine biologists and geneticists.


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