Around 200 stranded whales die in strong waves in Australia

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A day after 230 whales were found stranded on the wild and remote west coast of Australia’s island state of Tasmania, only 35 were still alive despite rescue efforts set to continue on Thursday.

Half of the pod of pilot whales stranded in Macquarie Harbor were still supposed to be alive on Wednesday, the Tasmanian Department of Natural Resources and Environment said.

But the rough surf took its toll overnight, Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service manager Brendon Clark said.

“We screened the animals yesterday as part of the preliminary assessment and identified those animals that were most likely to survive out of the approximately 230 that were stranded. Today’s focus will be on rescue and release operations,” Clark told reporters in the vicinity of Strahan.

“We have approximately 35 surviving animals on the beach … and the main focus this morning will be the rescue and release of those animals,” Clark added.

The whales stranded two years after the largest mass stranding in Australian history was discovered in the same harbor.

On September 21, 2020, around 470 long-finned pilot whales were found trapped in sandbars. After a week-long effort, 111 of those whales were rescued but the rest died.

The entrance to the harbor is a notoriously shallow and dangerous channel known as Hell’s Gate.

Local salmon farmer Linton Kringle helped with the 2020 rescue effort, saying the latest challenge would be more difficult.

“Last time they were in the harbor and it was pretty quiet and we were able to, more or less, deal with them there and we were able to get the boats to them,” Kringle said.

“But just on the beach, you just can’t get a boat in there, it’s too shallow, too rough. My idea would be to try and get them into a vehicle if we can’t swim them out,” Kringle added.

Vanessa Pirotta, a wildlife scientist who specializes in marine mammals, said it was too early to explain why the stranding occurred.

“The fact that we’ve seen similar species, at the same time, in the same place, recurring in terms of strandings in that same place could provide some sort of indication that there might be something environmental here,” Pirotta said.

David Midson, general manager of the West Coast Council township, urged people to stay away.

“Whales are a protected species, even once dead, and it is an offense to interfere with a carcass,” the environment department said.

Fourteen sperm whales were discovered Monday afternoon on King Island, part of the state of Tasmania in the Bass Strait between Melbourne and the north coast of Tasmania.

Griffith University marine scientist Olaf Meynecke said it is unusual for sperm whales to come ashore. He said 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,” Meynecke said. “When they do this, they’re not in the best physical condition because they may be starving, so this can lead to them taking more risks and maybe getting closer to shore.”

Pilot whales have been known to run aground en masse, for reasons that are not fully understood.

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