Nelson Nature fortnightly nature fix.
Welcome to the Nelson Nature fortnightly nature fix - a regular snippet about Nelson's natural environment, and what we can do to look after it. If you know anyone who you think might enjoy getting a regular nature fix, please pass this on and encourage them to sign up.
Volunteers and DOC staff attending to a pod of stranded pilot whales, Puponga, Farewell Spit
The sight of hundreds of stranded pilot whales in Golden Bay this past weekend will be a hard memory to forget for the many Nelsonians who traveled over the Takaka Hill to try and save them.
Diana Parr, DOC
On the evening of Friday 10 February, over 400 pilot whales stranded on Farewell Spit; around 75 percent of them did not survive. Farewell Spit is a Southern Hemisphere “hotspot” for mass whale strandings, along with places like Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands, where the biggest known stranding in recent history - 1000 whales - occurred in 1918.
The reasons behind whale strandings are not fully understood, but it is generally thought that the sloping, underwater terrain of these locations result in navigational confusion as the pilot whales chase their food source closer to shore over summer.
Solar storms could also be to blame - a research programme being undertaken this year by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the International Fund for Animal Welfare will look at whether solar storms contribute to strandings. Solar storms disturb the magnetic-field in the solar system, wreaking havoc on satellite systems and power grids, and it has been hypothesised that they may also disrupt the whales' navigational senses.
Pilot whales, known to Maori as upokohue, are in fact a member of the dolphin family, and those living in our waters are likely to be long-finned pilot whales. They are the largest member of the dolphin family, so named as it was thought that the pod followed a “pilot” in their group. Pilot whales live for up to 60 years for females, and 35-45 for males, and spend these lives in stable groups of usually up to 100, though they can gather in much larger numbers.
If you would like to know more about whale strandings, and how you can help, see: