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108 pilot whales rescued from Australia's worst mass stranding

Saturday, September 26th 2020, 1:31 pm - The massive beaching was one of the largest ever worldwide, surpassing a previous Australia record of 320 whales stranded in the western region in 1996.

There is a bit of good news in what has otherwise been a disastrous outcome for the hundreds of pilot whales stranded along Tasmania's west coast.

While approximately 350 whales have perished in what is being referred to as Australia's worst stranding on record, 108 of the surviving mammals have been released back into the sea.

RELATED: Tasmania’s whale stranding tragedy explained

The Tasmanian government issued a statement Saturday verifying 108 long-finned pilot whales had survived the beaching and were successfully released outside Macquarie Harbour.

In an interview with BBC, Marine Conservation Program wildlife biologist Dr. Kris Carlyon said it was a "fantastic outcome" after several days of tremendous work by the rescue team. "We only had one whale restrand overnight, which is a good result given 20 whales were released yesterday," Carlyon said.

The massive beaching was one of the largest ever worldwide, surpassing a previous Australia record of 320 whales stranded in the western region in 1996.

Strahan whale stranding/Brodie Weeding/The Advocate The Tasmanian government issued a statement Saturday verifying 108 long-finned pilot whales had survived the beaching and were successfully released outside Macquarie Harbour. Photo: Brodie Weeding/The Advocate.

The pilot whales first washed up on sand spits in the sea around Macquarie Heads on Monday. Initially, rescuers tallied about 270 whales, but a helicopter spotted another 200 whales nearby on Tuesday. The second group was thought to be part of the same pod, but it's possible it may have washed in with the tide.

Experts believe Macquarie Harbour, situated on Tasmania's west coast, is now clear of live whales. Efforts are now focused on disposing the carcasses, with 15 buried at sea Friday to experiment with that method.

PILOT WHALES PRONE TO STRANDINGS

The reasons for the whales becoming stranded aren't fully understood by experts but they are more prone to getting beached. While the mammals aren't considered to be endangered, exact population numbers are unknown.

However, there are multiple theories for why beachings happen. Some experts believe the pilot whales can become disoriented after chasing fish to the shore. Others think an individual's behaviour can mistakenly lead the whole group to shore.

It is also speculated by researchers that such groups are vulnerable around beaches, which calmly slope across a large area, because the whales' sonar pulses can fail to detect the shoreline in shallow waters.

More than 80 per cent of Australian whale strandings occur in Tasmania, with Macquarie Heads a known hotspot.

Thumbnail courtesy of Brodie Weeding/The Advocate.

Source: BBC

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