Every year, about 300 whales and dolphins strand on the New Zealand coastline and many of these strandings involve mass pods of animals who follow old, sick or injured pod members to shallow waters were the animals eventually beach themselves usually to death. This makes New Zealand have the highest cetacean stranding rate in the entire world, but when they do strand, there is no rehab facility for them to go to and in many cases, most of the weakest animals are euthanize at the scene while the few healthy survivors are released back to sea. However, that can change if the country chooses to establish a rehab facility. While the country does have a stranding network and a small number of non-profit groups that do get involve in rescue efforts, New Zealand has yet to have rescue and rehab facility that would serve as hospital for sick stranded marine mammals who are in great need to rehabilitation. Having a rehab facility would cut the usual stranding mortality in half by fifty percent or even more thanks to the expertise of veterinarians who have a strong knowledge in marine veterinary science.
In addition, the rehab facility could serve as a haven for the endangered Maui and Hector's dolphins, the most endangered species of dolphin in the world that are being threatened by fishery conflict in New Zealand waters. The animals would come to facility would be rescued from entanglement and be given the chance to be rehabilitated with hopes of being one day released back into the wild. It would also be used to rehab other cetacean species that get stranded too like killer whales, dolphins, beaked whales, and even pilot whales. As for the animals that are deemed “non-releasable”, the facility would have a choice of either keeping the animal to serve as an ambassador for their species and educate the public about their kind, or move them elsewhere.
The Proposed facility's set up would be a sea pen care station that would be located off Wakatane, NZ in the Bay of Plenty. Operated as a non-profit, the sea pen's setting would be similar to that of the Grassy Key-based Dolphin Research Center with the management being very similar to that of many US marine life rehabilitation facilities. It would also follow rehabilitation guidelines that have been established in the United States and Western Europe with staff of professionals with years of experience in rehabilitating the animals and animal care, as well as it's own stranding network to respond to rescues offshore.
Having a rehab facility in New Zealand would not only benefit the country and it's conservation efforts, but also, it would benefit the hundreds of stranded cetaceans that strand on New Zealand's coastline, including endangered Maui's dolphins that would otherwise have died. It's time for New Zealand to establish a rehab facility for stranded marine mammals.
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