May 31, 2023

Just 35 of the approximately 230 whales discovered on the beach on the rugged west coast of Tasmania are alive and rescuers are trying to release the animals into the water, officials say.

About 200 pilot whales have perished after being stranded on an exposed, surf-swept beach on the rugged west coast of Tasmania, Australian rescuers have said.

Just 35 of the approximately 230 whales discovered on the beach the day before were still alive, the state’s wildlife service operations manager, Brendon Clark, told journalists at the scene on Thursday.

“We’ve triaged the animals yesterday as part of the preliminary assessment and we’ve identified those animals that had the best chance of survival of the approximately 230 that were stranded.

“Today’s focus will be on rescue and release operations,” Clark said.

“We’ve got approximately 35 surviving animals out on the beach … and the primary focus this morning will be on the rescue and release of those animals,” Clark added.

The discovery came after fourteen sperm whales were found on Monday afternoon on King Island, part of the state of Tasmania in the Bass Strait between Melbourne and Tasmania’s northern coast.

Griffith University marine scientist Olaf Meynecke said it’s unusual for sperm whales to wash ashore. He said that warmer temperatures could also be changing the ocean currents and moving the whales’ traditional food.

“They will be going to different areas and searching for different food sources,” Meynecke said.

Notorious Hell’s Gate

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

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

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

About 470 long-finned pilot whales were found on September 21, 2020, stuck on sandbars.

After a weeklong effort, 111 of those whales were rescued but the rest died.

Local salmon farmer Linton Kringle helped in the 2020 rescue effort and said the latest challenge would be more difficult.

“Last time they were actually in the harbour and it’s quite calm and we could, sort of, deal with them in there and we could get the boats up to them,” Kringle said.

The pilot whale is notorious for stranding in mass numbers, for reasons that are not entirely understood.

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