A hiker on a New Zealand island stumbled upon a distressing sight this weekend: dozens of pilot whales, dead on the beach after getting stranded there. Per the Guardian, the nation's Department of Conservation fielded a call Saturday from the hiker, who'd been camping on secluded Stewart Island, and staff rushed to Mason Bay to see what could be done. However, by the time they arrived, half of the 145 or so whales were already dead, and the other half had to be euthanized due to "the remote location, lack of nearby personnel, and the whales' deteriorating condition," the DOC said in a statement, per the BBC. "It's always a heartbreaking decision to make." Two separate pods were found, beached about 1.2 miles apart along the shoreline.
New Zealand is considered a "hot spot" for the stranding of marine creatures, though it's typically single animals that are found, not multitudes of them. Researchers are still trying to fully understand what causes the whales to wash up on shores there, and so far the DOC suspects factors that include "sickness, navigational error, geographical features, a rapidly falling tide, being chased by a predator, or extreme weather." Stewart Island in particular could be "confusing" for the whales, the manager of a whale rescue group says, messing with their echolocation-dependent communications system due to its "gently shelving waters," per Stuff.co.nz. Plans for the whales' bodies include a blessing by a local Maori tribe, followed by a burial coordinated with the DOC. (More than 140 whales died after getting stranded in Australia earlier this year.)