Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


Up to 145 pilot whales have stranded and died on a remote beach on Rakiura/Stewart Island over the weekend.

Date:  26 November 2018

Update Tuesday 27 November: DOC is working with Ngāi Tahu on health and safety in the area. There is a rāhui in place. Visitors shouldn't swim in the area or touch the whales. 

Monday 26 November:

Two pods stranded at the southern end of Mason Bay, approximately 2 km apart.

DOC was notified at 10.30 pm on Saturday evening after a tramper camping in the area hiked to a nearby field base to report the stranding.

DOC Rakiura Operations Manager Ren Leppens says that sadly, half of the whales had already died by the time they were found. Due to the condition of the remaining whales and the remote, difficult to access location, the decision was made to euthanise the remainder.

“Sadly, the likelihood of being able to successfully re-float the remaining whales was extremely low. The remote location, lack of nearby personnel and the whales’ deteriorating condition meant the most humane thing to do was to euthanise.”

“However, it’s always a heart-breaking decision to make.”

DOC has notified local Ngāi Tahu iwi and is working together on next steps.

Marine mammal strandings are a relatively common occurrence on New Zealand shores, with DOC responding to an average 85 incidents a year – mostly of single animals.

Exactly why whales and dolphins strand is not fully known but factors can include sickness, navigational error, geographical features, a rapidly falling tide, being chased by a predator, or extreme weather. More than one factor may contribute to a stranding. 

A number of stranding occurred on New Zealand shores over the weekend, however these events are unlikely to be related.

On Sunday 10 pygmy killer whales also stranded at 90 Mile Beach. Two have since died and re-float attempts will be made tomorrow.  

A sperm whale/tohora, also beached in Doubtful Bay on Karikari Peninsula in Northland. The 15 m male whale, which is thought to have beached about 3 pm on Friday, sadly died overnight on Saturday. A dead female pygmy sperm whale also washed up at Ohiwa over the weekend.

Video of the pilot whale stranding

Download a video of the stranding (MP4, 30,000K)

Media are free to use whale images on this website, credit DOC.

Download photos (ZIP, 6,980K)


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