While marine biologists are still hoping to determine what caused a pod of nine orcas to strand themselves on a remote beach in New Zealand, reaction to the rare event among locals leaves little doubt about the potency of human compassion.
Beachgoer Debra Drain was the first to arrive to the stranded orca pod, one of several racing to try and help the animals after they were spotted washed ashore on the rocky Southland coast. Sadly, eight of the orcas had already died, and the last survivor was in bad shape. With little else she could do to help, Debra tried to offer it comfort in its final moments.
"I couldn't leave so I hugged a dying orca as it cried for its life," she told the Southland Times.
A representative of the the island's indigenous Ngai Tahu tribe was soon on hand as well after word arrived of the orca stranding. Dean Whaanga performed a traditional prayer for the creatures, called karakia, to "wish them farewell on their final journey."
Orca expert Ingrid Visser says that the stranding is the third-largest to have occurred in New Zealand and may be among the tenth largest globally. Biologists hope that a necropsy will help shed light on what drove the animal to shore.
"A lot of people are thinking that the stranding is possibly linked to seismic activities, earthquakes in the area but we don't know until we get down there," says Ingrid.
"There are fewer than 200 orcas living off New Zealand's coast, so this represents a large portion of that."