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Why do whales strand?

Whale strandings are complex events that involve various causes – anything from disease to extreme weather.

A stranded whale might be old or infested with parasites. It could have been poisoned by natural toxins or have had problems with giving birth.

Coastlines may play a part in whale strandings. Whales chasing prey near shallow sloping beaches can strand. They can also be trapped by receding tides. Some people have suggested that abnormalities in the Earth’s magnetic field may also cause strandings.

Human-made noise and pollution, accidents involving boats, and entanglements with fishing gear add to whales’ mortality rate

At the exhibition

Introduce students to this section about the reasons for whale strandings and human responses to them. Get the students to explore the immediate area then discuss the following questions and topics.

Questions for 5 to 10 year olds

  • How do whale strandings make you feel?

  • Are there any images in this area that you like or dislike? Why is that?

  • Why do whales strand?

Questions for 10 years old and over

  • How do whale strandings make you feel?

  • Are there any images in this area that you like or dislike? Why?

  • Why do whales strand?

  • Can you think of any other reasons for strandings?

  • If you were on a beach and a whale stranded, what would you do?

  • Find the Stranding Innovation Pontoon. Can you think of a way to save a stranded whale?

  • In what ways can pollution affect whale strandings?

  • How might fishing have an impact on strandings?

  • Should we save stranded whales?

Teachers notes:

Strandings can have a strong emotional effect on communities, impelling people to come together to try to rescue the whales.

Whales strand for many different reasons – parasites, pollution, disease, disorientation, accidents with boats, and entanglements with fishing gear. Even coastlines may play a part in strandings – whales chasing prey near shallow sloping beaches can become trapped by receding tides.

Once stranded, whales suffer internal damage and overheating, and deteriorate rapidly. Because of their size, they can be difficult and dangerous to refloat.

If refloating isn’t possible, the current thinking is to prevent the whales from suffering further. Humane killing methods have recently been devised for this purpose.

Related classroom activities

Challenge for the students

Create an invention to help stranded whales.

Before visiting the exhibition

Discuss strandings and the known reasons that whales strand.

Discuss the responses of people to whale strandings and how this event makes you feel.

Discuss the requirements of whales when they strand.

Discuss the species that strand and their specific requirements if they strand

Draw up some preliminary ideas for the inventions.

During the visit to the exhibition

Investigate the reasons why whales strand and their requirements when they do.

Investigate the responses that people have had to whale strandings.

Investigate invents used to help whales when they have stranded.

After the visit to the exhibition

Work up the sketches and plans for your invention.

Source the materials and build a scale model of the invention recording the process from the initial ideas right though to the testing of the scale model invention.

Other suggested learning experiences

  • Create an Emergency Response Unit (ERU) at your school, what are the requirements, what are the different rolls that people have to undertake what is some of the equipment that are required?

  • Act out the responses of people to a whale stranding

  • Create a map of the stranding areas in New Zealand marking out species and numbers.