Nearly 100 pilot whales have died after being beached in New Zealand’s Chatham Islands, officials said.
Great white sharks were believed to stalk the rugged seawater when 97 of the toothed whales and three dolphins died after being trapped at Waitangi West Beach on Wednesday.
The Department of Conservation became aware of the mass stranding around noon, but a power outage and the remote location prevented rangers from arriving for three hours.
The islands are located 800 km east of New Zealand’s South Island, with frequent beachings.
Biodiversity monitor Jemma Welch said 26 of the whales – which can live in groups of tens to thousands – were still alive.
“Most of them seemed very faint and were euthanized because of the rough sea conditions and the near-certainty that there are great white sharks in the water that will be hit by a beaching like this,” she said in a statement.
The small whales – made up of long and short finned species – are highly social creatures but have been prone to hunters for centuries because of their bones, meat and oil.
It is not known exactly why whales strand.
9News reports that two more whales were euthanized after beaching Monday.
The native Hokotehi Moriori Trust and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Iwi Trust offered a prayer to honor the spirit of the whales.
Earlier this month, a nighttime rescue was launched after 100 whales stranded on a Sri Lankan beach.
Locals defied coronavirus curfew rules to assist the navy, police and conservationists in carrying out the rescue near the city of Panadura.
In September, more than 450 whales were stranded in Tasmania, of which about two-thirds were rescued.