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The death of nine killer whales in Southland is a blow to New Zealand's small orca population, the Department of Conservation says.
The whales were seen swimming in shallow water at Te Waewae bay near Tuatapere yesterday evening, DoC spokesman Reuben Williams said.
By midnight, they had beached at Blue Cliffs beach.
When DoC staff arived at 1am, the eight adults and one juvenile whale had died, he said.
"In terms of endangered species, there's only 200 in the local population. Nine out of 200 - it's a bit of an impact on the population and it's unfortunate."
DoC staff had consulted with local iwi before removing one of the whale carcasses and taking DNA samples for research purposes, Mr Williams said.
No other whales had been seen swimming in the area.