197 beached pilot whales die

An entire pod of 197 pilot whales found stranded on a New Zealand beach have died, including 48 that were euthanised, government officials said yesterday.

The stranded whales were discovered by hikers on Sunday on Stewart Island, off the southern tip of the South Island.

When Conservation Department staff arrived about half of the whales were already dead and the others were dying. The whales were well up the beach and the tide was receding, leaving little chance of keeping them alive until more rescuers could arrive. "Euthanasia is a difficult decision, but is made purely for the welfare of the animal involved to prevent it from prolonged suffering," said Brent Beaven, a department official.

Pilot whales are about four to six metres long and are the most common species of whale in New Zealand waters.

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