Scientists study southern killer whale stranding

Nine orca have died after becoming stranded on a Southland Beach early Wednesday morning.

Killer whales stranded at Blue Cliffs. Source: DOC.
Killer whales stranded at Blue Cliffs. Source: DOC.

The Department of Conservation says the stranding, which included one calf, was approximately five per cent of the national population. Their full release is available here.

The rare Blue Cliffs beach stranding–near Tuatapere in Southland–is only the third mass beaching of the species recorded in New Zealand, a specialist researcher told The New Zealand Herald.

“There’s only been two other strandings of this magnitude in New Zealand,” Orca Research Trust founder and principal scientist Ingrid Visser said.

“One was in 1955 [when] 17 animals stranded at Paraparaumu near Wellington, we don’t know what caused that. And then there was 12 animals that stranded in the 1980s in the Chatham Islands and they all died before they were found. We have no idea what caused that either.”

DOC has removed one of the animals for investigation, and has recovered DNA samples to learn more about the species.

The strandings have been covered throughout NZ media, including footage from the scene:

3 News: Shock after Southland orca stranding
Stuff: Orca stranding a tragedy
Radio Live: Fatal stranding on a Southland beach, nine Orca die – Audio
Newstalk ZB: Fatal stranding a significant hit for orca population
Radio New Zealand: Orca dead after southern stranding
3 News: Orca stranding has experts baffled