Hundreds of dead rats wash up on South Island beaches, prompts warning

The carcasses of hundreds of dead rats that mysteriously washed up on a West Coast beach on Saturday, have been cleaned up.

A spokesperson for the Department of Conservation (DoC) said on Sunday afternoon about 600 rat carcasses had been removed from Westport’s North Beach and a follow-up inspection did not find any more carcasses above the high tide lines. Dead fish and birds in the area have also been removed.

The cause of the animals’ death still remains unknown. Samples from the rats were being urgently tested, but according to the spokesperson, the results will only be available Monday late afternoon at the earliest.

The Department of Conservation says staff will continue to check the beach after high tides for the next couple of days.

It is thought that the rats washed up on the beach sometime over Friday and Saturday. DoC Western South Island operations director Mark Davies earlier said one possibility being considered is that the rats were killed by a recent aerial 1080 poison drop at Te Maruia in the Lewis Pass National Reserve, and washed out of the hills by the heavy rain. Te Maruia and Inangahua river catchment feeds into the Buller River and had a plague of rats treated with toxin a week ago.

However, the dead fish and birds that were found along with the rats, puts a question mark over the possible link to the 1080 drop, as that is not consistent with the way 1080 is understood to work.

The rat carcasses have since been removed from Westport’s North Beach.

The poison operation was also more than 140km away from North Beach.

According to the DoC dog owners’ are urged to be cautious when taking their dogs to the beach as more rats could wash up over the next few days, but the beach has not been officially closed.

DoC staff will continue to check the beach after high tides over the next couple of days.