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Unusual whale strandings prompt urgent call

Unusual whale strandings prompt urgent call for autopsies

During the height of Kiwi Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations there have been several whale strandings and unusual sightings. Unusual because: these incidents involve multiple species – baleen and toothed. Because Sperm whales and several species of Beaked whales have been close inshore when they generally live their whole lives in waters over a kilometer deep.

Alarm bells ring as this coincides with the largest activity of intensive seismic surveying ever seen in New Zealand waters occurring on both sides of the Cook Strait right now.

Sea Shepherd requests autopsies be undertaken before DOC buries these whales and gets rid of potential evidence. Iwi have full rights to demand necropsies in order to establish cause of death and gather important scientific conclusions. We offer them all our support.

Both oil exploration companies need to be held accountable for funding the necropsies on the Sperm whale stranding in Nelson, and the extremely rare fresh Shepherd’s Beaked whale stranding off Timaru, as per governmental agreements and best practice.

“It shouldn’t be up to scientists, iwi, NGOs and the people of New Zealand to have to kick up a stink to ensure this happens. It should be a given,” says Michael Lawry, Sea Shepherd NZ Director.

Amazon Warrior, the largest seismic testing ship in the world, has been blasting off the East Coast since November 13, 2016.

PGS is currently seismic surveying in the South Taranaki Bight - a recovering breeding and feeding ground for Blue whales - have stated they will “consider covering the cost of necropsies in the event of a stranding for a seismic operation”. PGS readily admits they are a risk to marine mammals.

Professor Liz Slooten from Otago University says, ”Even if it’s not the seismic blasting causing these whales to strand, given the unusual species observed, accusations towards the oil exploration companies will likely escalate. They need to get on board, assist DOC and fund the research. It’s outrageous these systems aren’t already in place.”

“Whales are taonga, our treasures. A stranding is a tohu, a sign. We all love whales. It’s important to utilise available science to know what caused their death, so we can prevent more. We owe them this much.” says Gemma McGrath, Independent Consultant and former WhaleWatch Kaikoura Senior Guide. “Sperm whale strandings also need to be co-ordinated fully to see how they match with the Kaikoura photo-ID catalogue”.

Everyone agrees: Systems should already be in place to adequately respond to stranding events possibly linked to seismic operations. Regional teams capable of carrying out autopsies need to be set up, trained and ready to respond to future strandings. Burying the evidence is simply not acceptable. Let this be the last whale to go uninvestigated.

Strandings
• Sperm whale stranded Nelson 30th December. Young fully grown male. No necropsy planned however local Iwi have the rights to request one urgently.
• Shepherd's Beaked whale stranded Caroline Bay 27th December. No necropsy performed however local Iwi have the rights to request one.
• Pygmy Blue whale, 14 metres, 28th December, found washed up on a South Taranaki beach. It appears to have died several weeks before from unknown causes.


Unusual sightings
• Arnoux Beaked whales, Otago Peninsula - 24 December
• Tasman Bay - 29 December. A group of what is now believed to be a Sperm whale(s) and possibly more Beaked whales (originally misidentified as Southern Rights or Humpbacks) were observed before the single stranding occurred.


ENDS

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