Nearly a day after 230 whales were found stranded off a wild and remote coast of the island state of Tasmania in Australia, officials say around 200 have died and efforts are underway to rescue the remaining mammals.
While half the pod of pilot whales stranded in Macquarie Harbor was alive as of Wednesday, the strong waves took a toll overnight, said Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manager Brendon Clark.
“Unfortunately, we have a high mortality rate on this particular stranding,” he said, confirming that only 35 of the 230 whales are still alive. “The main focus this morning will be the rescue and release of these animals.”
“We screened the animals yesterday as part of the preliminary assessment and identified the animals that had the best chance of surviving out of the 230 or so that were stranded. Today’s focus will be on rescue and release operations,” she added.
This is not the first time whales have been discovered stranded in this port. Exactly two years ago, on September 21, 2020, about 470 pilot whales were found trapped in sandbars. After a week-long effort, only 111 were rescued, while the rest died.
Local salmon farmer Linton Kringle, who helped with rescue efforts in 2020, said this time it is an even more challenging operation.
“Last time they were actually in the harbor and it’s pretty quiet and we could, more or less, deal with them there and we could take the boats to them,” he said. “But just on the beach, you just can’t get a boat there – it’s too shallow, too rough. My thoughts would be trying to get them into a vehicle if we can’t swim them.”
The reason why two major strandings occurred at Macquarie, on the same beach and on the same date two years apart, remains unexplained.
“The fact that we’ve seen similar species, at the same time, in the same location, occurring again in terms of stranding at the same location could provide some sort of indication that there might be something environmental here,” said Vanessa Pirotta, a wildlife expert. scientist specializing in marine mammals.
Earlier on Monday, 14 sperm whales were found stranded on King Island, part of Tasmania’s Bass Strait state, between Melbourne and the northern coast of Tasmania.
Griffith University marine scientist Olaf Meynecke said it is unusual for sperm whales to make landfall, adding that warmer temperatures could also be changing ocean currents and moving the whales’ traditional food.
“They will go to different areas and look for different food sources,” he said. “When they do that, they’re not in the best physical condition because they could be starving, which could lead them to take more risks and maybe get closer to the coast.”
Additional reports by agencies