Wildlife experts are racing against time to rescue 35 pilot whales stranded on a Tasmanian beach after nearly 200 of their relatives died in mass stranding.
On Wednesday, about 230 whales were stranded at the entrance to Port Macquarie near Strahan on Tasmania’s west coast.
Sadly, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service’s director of regional operations, Brendon Clark, said only 35 whales survived the night. He blamed the exposed conditions.
“Unfortunately, we have a high mortality rate for this particular delinquency – mostly due to the exposed conditions in Ocean Beach,” he said.
“Environmental conditions, and surfing there on the exposed West Coast, definitely affect the animals.”
After a day spent sorting whales to determine which animals had the best chance of survival, rescue crews were working Thursday to try to activate their daring operation.
Mr Clark said about 50 experts and experienced staff will be involved in the arduous task, including volunteers from three local aquaculture organizations, emergency services and park staff.
“The main focus this morning is on saving and releasing the remaining animals,” the regional director of operations confirmed.
The whales will be gently rolled onto large whale mats and taken to a trailer, which will be padded with mattresses for comfort.
Mechanical assistance will help the crews lift the whales into the trailers, a feat usually achieved through muscle and willpower alone. Chris Carleon, director of operations for Tasmania’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Program, said the device would make the rescue operation more efficient.
“We’re really confident it’s going to help speed things up a little bit and also make sure we control the fatigue,” he said.
“We have animals that are basically high and dry on the sand. These animals can weigh up to 2.5 tons. They are big and heavy.”
The pilot whales will then be taken to deeper waters, where they will then be released.
There will be more whale casualties throughout Thursday, as crews race around the clock, the director of the Marine Conservation Program said.
“I think it is inevitable that we will lose more of these animals,” Mr. Carleon said.
I’ve been stranded for over 24 hours. They are exposed and very stressful. They are not nearly afloat.”
Rescue crews are working hard all day Thursday to “maximize success” and save as many whales as possible. Carleon said he was “optimistic” about how many whales the crews could rescue on Thursday.
“I would be confident that we can make a real impact in those 35 animals and start moving the majority by today,” he said.
Both men acknowledged that seeing the stranded whales en masse was a “confrontation” and “difficult” to see the highly social and intelligent stranded animals, and said they would need to take steps to ensure this does not happen again.
“We are aware that some of these animals may re-shore themselves and so we will be monitoring that,” Clark said.
The whales are kept hydrated and cool until they can be moved.
Experts have made numerous comparisons with the largest number of stranded whales in Australian history, which occurred almost two years ago.
In September 2020, about 450 pioneer whales were stranded in the same area and managed to save 100.
This rescue will be more difficult because the whales are not refreshing and the site is more exposed, but the rescuers say there has been “a tremendous amount of learning” from the 2020 event.
It’s coming together much faster and more experienced now,” said Carleon.
He speculated that there could be a lot of beaches in the area because the shallow waters in the Macquarie Heads could interfere with the whale’s echolocation system to create a “whale trap”.
Mr. Clark said Friday, Saturday and possibly Sunday will be spent retrieving the whale carcasses and taking them to the depths of the ocean.
The mass strandings come just a few days after 14 sperm whales perished after becoming ashore on King Island.
Originally Posted as Hundreds of Pilot Whales Dead on the West Coast of Tasmania After Mass Stranding