Orca links to earthquakes unknown
LATEST: An orca expert today said it was unknown if the stranding near Tuatapere was related to earthquake activity.
Orca Research Trust founder Dr Ingrid Visser, who arrived in Invercargill today, said the stranding would give scientists an opportunity to gather data on the pod of orcas.
''A lot of people are thinking that the stranding is possibly linked to seismic activities, earthquakes in the area but we don't know until we get down there (Western Southland),''Dr Visser said.
Dr Visser will meet with iwi to discuss conducting research tests on the eight remaining stranded orca carcasses.
If iwi agree Dr Visser will have unprecedented access to the orcas that beached themselves on Tuesday near Tuatapere.
"There is just no explaining what we can learn from a situation like this," she said.
Meanwhile, a Southland woman held an orca as it lay dying and crying out near Tuatapere, while the rest of its pod lay dead on the beach on Tuesday night.
Debra Drain was one of the first to reach the nine stranded mammals, near Blue Cliffs, after a tramper told her husband Jeff Drain he had seen them while walking the Hump Ridge track.
Mrs Drain said several residents raced to the beach only to find eight of the orcas had already died.
They had been pushed up against rocks, with their flesh torn from them, and the last one was still crying out, she said.
"I couldn't leave so I hugged a dying orca as it cried for its life."
Locals said they believed it was the same pod of orcas that attacked sharks near Blue Cliffs last year.
Mr Drain said it was not uncommon to see the orcas at some stage every year.
Department of Conservation spokesman Reuben Williams said no decision had been made about the remaining carcasses.
"Experts are on their way to Invercargill and we need to talk with locals before anything is decided," he said.
There were several considerations that needed to be taken into account, including distance, time, expense and the sheer size of the animals.
The orcas were confirmed dead at 7.30pm on Tuesday after stranding themselves earlier in the day.
Ngai Tahu representative Dean Whaanga flew in yesterday morning to perform a karakia (prayer).
"Whales are like chiefs of the sea and because they died before we got there we said a wee farewell to them, on this their last journey," he said.
Orca Research Trust founder Dr 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."
Dr Visser said this was the third largest stranding of orcas in New Zealand's history and possibly one of the 10 largest internationally.
"There are fewer than 200 orcas living off New Zealand's coast, so this represents a large portion of that," she said.
Dr Visser was trying to fly to Invercargill today to investigate the stranding.
One orca was removed under DOC instruction and will be used to investigate the reasons for the stranding.
- The Southland Times
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