The fatal stranding of nine orcas on a Southland beach is one of the largest ever and a tragedy for the New Zealand population, an expert says.
The orcas were confirmed dead at 7.30pm last night after stranding themselves earlier in the day. Department of Conservation (DOC) staff went to the beach near Tuatapere to investigate today.
Orca Research Trust founder Ingrid Visser said the stranding was tragic.
"The last time we had a stranding this big in New Zealand was in the '80s at Chatham Island," she said.
Visser said this was the third-largest in New Zealand's history and possibly one of the 10-largest internationally.
"There are fewer than 200 orca living off New Zealand's coast, so this represents a large portion of that," she said.
Visser was trying to fly to Invercargill today to investigate the stranding.
Ngai Tahu representatives blessed the orcas.
Ngai Tahu spokesman Dean Whaanga said they wished to give thanks.
''...like our human friends that have passed on, (give) a blessing to them and wish them well on their last journey, their final farewell,'' Mr Whaanga said.
One was removed last night under DOC instruction for investigation, but High Country Helicopters pilot Dale Green said he did not believe DOC was going to remove any more today.
Resident Tracy Thomas was alerted to the stranding last night and said she went to take photos of the orcas.
They were beached at Trackburn, west from Bluecliffs Beach near Tuatapere, Thomas said.
"There were nine of them and they were all dead, which is quite sad," she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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