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New Zealand Orca Stranding Update

February 19, 2014

Yesterday, I happened to catch up briefly with New Zealand orca scientist Ingrid Visser, and she gave me an update on the nine New Zealand orcas who died after stranding last week

Visser raced to the scene after hearing about the stranding. She has spent decades studying and swimming with local New Zealand orcas, and she feared she was going to know these particular animals. If these killer whales had been from the group Visser studies, it would have meant that 4-5% of New Zealand’s local orca population had stranded and died at one time, a devastating blow.

However, when Visser arrived she didn’t recognize any of the orcas and doesn’t believe any appear in her photo-ID catalogue. In addition, many of the orcas had healed Cookie Cutter shark bites on their dorsals, and worn teeth, which is not typical for the New Zealand coastal orca population that Visser studies.

Visser and others worked pre-dawn to post-dusk collecting samples from the orcas, with the cooperation and support of the local Maori people. In addition to blubber and organ samples, Visser said the heads from all nine orcas were collected. The heads and tissue samples will be analyzed in an effort to better understand why the orcas stranded and died. Visser says that there were no obvious indications of what might have driven the orcas ashore. No obvious trauma, and no blood from the eyes, ears or anus, which can indicate acoustical trauma. None of the orcas was pregnant. 

“we’ll do more studies later,” Visser concludes. “At this stage there is nothing that we can tell immediately, and nothing that we could tell might have triggered the stranding.”


7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2014 9:15 am

    Thanks for the update Tim – glad that Ingrid is on the case, at least we know it’ll continue to be looked into.

  2. Michele Jankelow permalink
    February 19, 2014 1:33 pm

    Tim thank you for your professional bulletins! I so rely on you for verified information. Can you fill me in on Kashmenek and potential for a possible release programme.

  3. Cindy Fairhall permalink
    February 20, 2014 2:45 am

    Ingrid is on the case and therefore I have real hope that some answers may be found. Ingrid Visser is an educator, unlike Seaworld who are exploiters. Let’s hope we get some answers although I have to say I fear that it will come down to human activity and all that implies. Such as the activity of the massive shipping lanes off Sri Lanka that result in blue whales dying in significant numbers. (sigh). Viva la Visser.

  4. Janet McIntosh permalink
    February 21, 2014 5:45 pm

    Hi Tim, have you heard any news regarding the captured orca intended for Sochi? They have kept it quiet. I am praying Putin did the right thing and set them free. If he did, the world would see him in a new light. Peace out. Janet.

    Sent from my iPhone


    • February 21, 2014 5:54 pm

      Janet: I’m not sure there was ever a serious plan to send any orcas to Sochi. But either way the wild orcas that were captured–and would have been sent–have not been released. They are presumably for sale to other parks.

  5. Else Jean Jensen permalink
    November 15, 2014 7:39 am

    Dear Tim Zimmerman
    Was the cause of the stranding ever found?

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