Why do Orca Strand?

Why do Orca get stuck on the beach?

When any animal is in trouble most people want to help out. Whale, dolphin & porpoise strandings are no exception and worldwide, people have become very successful at saving them.


Orca Rescue

The enigma for many people is why strandings occur in the first place. There are a wide range of circumstances which contribute to such an event.


Think of it like asking “Why did the car crash?” The answer could be many reasons depending on the particular accident. It could be: the driver fell asleep, a tyre burst, the car hit something on the road, the road was slippery, the driver was going too fast for the conditions, another car had an accident which set off a chain reaction or a number of other reasons (and perhaps for some accidents we will never know what caused them). All of these (or even more than one) could be the factor that triggered the event.


The same is true for whale, dolphin & porpoise (collectively called cetaceans) strandings.

There could be any number of reasons why they strand. It could be:

  • They were injured (perhaps run over by a boat),
  • They are sick (or perhaps have eaten plastic bags and are starving),
  •  They are trying to help another cetacean already on the beach.


Ben cut dorsal fin

Ben, cut dorsal fin from boat strike

For the New Zealand orca it could be something even simpler. Often, they are so focused on hunting for rays (the main food for New Zealand orca) in the extremely shallow waters where rays are found, that they just make a mistake in judging how deep the water is and they get stuck!


Near beach

Nearly every stranding of orca in New Zealand (where the animal came ashore alive and didn’t die out at sea and get washed ashore) has occurred on a shallow, sandy beach. This is exactly the type of habitat where the rays are and where orca hunt for them. Dr Ingrid Visser (the Founder of the Orca Research Trust) has watched orca get stuck whilst hunting for rays and has also watched these same orca manage to get themselves off the beach. When they aren’t so lucky she has been involved in helping many of them back out to the ocean.


Remember, these animals are not suicidal, they need our help. If you find a stranded orca (or any whale or dolphin), call 0800 SEE ORCA (0800 733 6722)
If you find you can’t get through, immediately call your nearest Emergency Response Number (111 in New Zealand; 911 in the USA) and ask for help. They will know who to call.

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