Race to save 300 stranded whales

Daily Tribune (Philippines) - - WORLD -

SYDNEY (AFP) — Res­cuers faced a race against time to save nearly 200 whales stuck in a re­mote Aus­tralian har­bor on Tues­day, hop­ing to pre­vent the toll of 90 dead from ris­ing fur­ther af­ter manag­ing to free “a small num­ber” of the stranded mam­mals.

Sci­en­tists said two large pods of long-finned pi­lot whales be­came stuck on sand­bars in Mac­quarie Har­bour, on Tas­ma­nia’s rugged and sparsely pop­u­lated west coast.

Images from the scene showed a shallow body of wa­ter, thick with scores of the large slick-black mam­mals ma­neu­ver­ing for space.

About 60 peo­ple — in­clud­ing vol­un­teers and lo­cal fish-farm work­ers — are in­volved in the res­cue at­tempt and could be seen wad­ing in the wa­ter to reach the whales to re­float them in deeper pas­sages.

Gov­ern­ment marine bi­ol­o­gist Kris Car­lyon said “about a third” of the 270 an­i­mals were dead by late Mon­day, and that res­cu­ing sur­vivors would be a “chal­leng­ing” task likely to take sev­eral days.

But there were hopes Tues­day that early res­cue ef­forts were al­ready pay­ing off, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial lead­ing the op­er­a­tion.

“We have now freed a small num­ber suc­cess­fully that ap­pear to have stayed out at sea, and are now scal­ing up that ap­proach,” Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice man­ager Nic Deka said.

Though mass whale strandings oc­cur rel­a­tively of­ten in Tas­ma­nia, such a large group has not been seen in the area for more than a decade.

The an­i­mals are only ac­ces­si­ble by boat, lim­it­ing the num­ber of res­cuers who can reach them.

They are bat­tling chilly and rainy con­di­tions as well as the har­bour’s un­usual tides, which are dic­tated by baro­met­ric pres­sure.

“In terms of mass whale strandings in Tas­ma­nia, this is up there with the trick­i­est,” Car­lyon told re­porters in the nearby town of Stra­han.

How­ever, Car­lyon said many of the par­tially sub­merged whales should be able to sur­vive for the sev­eral days it would take his team to com­plete the task, in part due to the in­clement weather.

BRODIE WEED­ING/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RES­CUERS work­ing to save a pod of whales stranded on a beach in Mac­quarie Har­bour on the rugged west coast of Tas­ma­nia. Res­cuers faced a race against time to save nearly 200 whales stuck in the re­mote Aus­tralian har­bor, hop­ing to pre­vent the toll of 90 dead from ris­ing fur­ther af­ter manag­ing to free “a small num­ber” of the stranded mam­mals.

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