Science

Tasmania rescue efforts see 32 whales saved out of over 230 stranded

Wildlife experts on Thursday rescued 32 of the 230 whales that were found stranded on the wild and remote west coast of Australia's island state of Tasmania a day earlier.

Pilot, sperm whales beached at separate locations, conservationists rushed to help those still alive

This image made from a video, shows rescuers in shallow waters with whales near Strahan, Australia, on Thursday. Rescue efforts were continuing to help three more whales stranded. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation/The Associated Press)

Wildlife experts on Thursday rescued 32 of the 230 whales that were found stranded on the wild and remote west coast of Australia's island state of Tasmania a day earlier.

Half the pod of pilot whales found stranded in Macquarie Harbour were presumed to still be alive on Wednesday, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said.

But only 35 had survived the pounding surf overnight, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manager Brendon Clark said.

"Of the 35 that were remaining alive this morning, we've managed to refloat, rescue and release 32 of those animals, and so that's a terrific result," Clark told reporters late Thursday at nearby Strahan.

"We still have three alive on the far northern end of Ocean Beach, but because of access restrictions, predominantly tidal influences, we just haven't been able to access those three animals safely today. But they'll be our priority in the morning," Clark added.

Reasons for the drift unclear

Marine Conservation Program biologist Kris Carlyon said the dead whales would be tested to see if there were toxins in their systems that might explain the disaster.

"These mass stranding events are typically the result of accidental sort of coming to shore, and that's through a whole host of reasons," Carlyon said.

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

In this handout image provided by Huon Aquaculture, whales are seen beached along the shoreline on Wednesday in Strahan, Australia. Hundreds of pilot whales have become stranded at Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania's west coast in a mass-stranding event. (Huon Aquaculture/Getty Images )

The whales beached two years to the day after the largest mass-stranding in Australia's history was discovered in the same harbour.

About 470 long-finned pilot whales were found beached on sandbars off Tasmania's west coast; 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 Thursday's challenge was more difficult because the whales were in shallower and more exposed waters.

One of 14 dead sperm whales lies washed up on a beach at King Island, north of Tasmania, Australia, on Tuesday. The whales were discovered the previous day. (Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania/The Associated Press)

In a separate development, 14 sperm whales were discovered 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.

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