The greatest mystery of the seas

On February 22, about 50 whales were stranded on Farewell Spit in New Zealand. But four years ago, when I took this photo, it was almost tenfold.
Photo: Reuters

Whales are stranded again on the coast of New Zealand, at the same place where hundreds of animals died in 2017. Researchers are looking for the reasons for this. The amount of litter in the sea can play a role.

FFor the animals, the struggle to survive in the air began with flippers, squeaks, and inviting other species. For Darren Grover, the battle itself began with a phone call on the evening of February 9, 2017: Dozens of experimental whales are stranded on a so-called Farewell Spit on the South Island of New Zealand. Grover rescues whales full time, and drives to the coast at dawn. He will never forget the photos of the following days: hundreds of whales will die in the sand, flies will swarm around, and the scaly skin will reveal their red flesh. But there will also be animals that are panting for life, which will converge together in a pool of mud and water. They have to go back to the water, which is why they need help from people. Initially there will be around twenty volunteers with the Grover who will take care of five dozen whales, each animal up to seven meters long and weighing three tons. Once Grover gets ashore, he knows: We need more people.

Whales are still stranded there, on Farewell Spit, mostly just a few or a few dozen animals, like last Monday. But in February 2017, more than 600 animals were lost in the sand – the largest stranding in decades, according to Darren Grover. With a distinctive British accent, the man in his late forties tells on the occasion of a videoconference how he got to the beach at the time, and how he and other volunteers tried to roll the animals on their side. When he explains how not to injure whales, he depicts the fins with his hands. Descriptions of delinquency in this text are based, among other things, on Grover’s stories, studies by New Zealand researchers, and a video of Grover by the conservation organization The Jonah Works.

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