Al­most 500 pi­lot whales stranded in Aus­tralian is­land state

Malta Independent - - World -

More pi­lot whales were found stranded on an Aus­tralian coast Wed­nes­day, rais­ing the es­ti­mated total to al­most 500 in the largest mass strand­ing ever recorded in the coun­try.

Au­thor­i­ties had al­ready been work­ing to res­cue sur­vivors among an es­ti­mated 270 whales found Mon­day on a beach and two sand bars near the re­mote west coast town of Stra­han on the is­land state of Tas­ma­nia.

Another 200 stranded whales were spot­ted from the air on Wed­nes­day less than 10 kilo­me­ters (6 miles) to the south, Tas­ma­nia Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice Man­ager Nic Deka said.

“From the air, they didn’t look to be in a con­di­tion that would war­rant res­cue,” Deka said. “Most of them ap­peared to be dead.”

Fur­ther as­sess­ment of their con­di­tion would be made by boat and crews would be sent if the whales could be saved, he said. About 30 whales in the orig­i­nal strand­ing were moved from the sand­bars to open ocean but sev­eral got stranded again, Deka said.

About a third of the first group had died by Mon­day evening, and an up­date on the death toll and con­di­tion of sur­vivors was ex­pected later Wed­nes­day.

Tas­ma­nia is the only part of Australia prone to mass strand­ings, although they oc­ca­sion­ally oc­cur on the Aus­tralian main­land.

Australia’s largest mass strand­ing had been 320 pi­lot whales near the West­ern Australia state town of Duns­bor­ough in 1996.

The lat­est strand­ing is the first in­volv­ing more than 50 whales in Tas­ma­nia since 2009.

“In Tas­ma­nia, this is the big­gest (mass strand­ing) we’ve recorded,” Ma­rine Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram wildlife bi­ol­o­gist Kris Car­lyon said.

Res­cue crews re­mained op­ti­mistic about free­ing more whales, Car­lyon said.

With cool weather help­ing, “we’ve got a very good chance of get­ting more off that sand­bar,” he added.

Why the whales ran aground is a mys­tery. The pod may have been drawn into the coast to feed or by the mis­ad­ven­ture of one or two whales, which had led to the rest of the pod fol­low­ing, Car­lyon said.

“It’s re­ally likely this was the one strand­ing event of a big group. This would have been one big group off­shore,” Car­lyon said.

Ma­rine sci­en­tist Vanessa Pirotta said there were a num­ber of po­ten­tial rea­sons that whales might be­come beached, in­clud­ing nav­i­ga­tional er­rors.

“They do have a very strong so­cial sys­tem, these an­i­mals are closely bonded and that’s why we have seen so many in this case un­for­tu­nately in this sit­u­a­tion,” Pirotta told Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Corp.

And res­cu­ing them doesn’t al­ways work “be­cause they are want­ing to re­turn back to the pod, they might hear the acous­tics for the vo­cal­iza­tions of the sounds that the oth­ers are mak­ing, or they’re just dis­ori­ented and in this case ex­tremely stressed, and just prob­a­bly so fa­tigued that they in some cases don’t know where they are, “she added.

In neigh­bor­ing New Zealand, more than 600 pi­lot whales washed up on the South Is­land at Farewell Spit in 2017.

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