70 whales refloated in Tasmania mass stranding

Sydney, Australia, Sep 24 (efe-epa).- A total of 70 out of the 470 long-finned pilot whales stranded off the west coast of the southern Australian state of Tasmania have been refloated, local authorities said Thursday.

In Tasmania’s worst mass stranding even, the state government’s Marine Conservation Program (MCP) said Wednesday that 380 had died, and this figure was unchanged Thursday morning.

“We’ve now retrieved 70 whales off the sandbar and released them out to sea,” incident controller and Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) regional manager Nic Deka said in a statement.

The MCP said that “the focus remains on efforts to save the approximately 20 live animals viable for rescue.”

Four whales were to be euthanized following assessment by a veterinarian, MCP wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon said.

“These are animals that we have given a chance, we tried to release them and they haven’t done well. We don’t believe trying to release them again is a viable option. The most humane course of action is to euthanise them at this stage,” Carlyon said.

Supported by an increasing number of volunteers, the rescue teams are racing against the clock to move the remaining whales into deeper waters – an operation that was predicted to take days.

On Monday, 270 whales were found spread over three locations in Macquarie Harbor – two sandbars and one beach – and on Wednesday morning an additional 200 were found 7-10 kilometers away.

“At any point in time this number is really an estimate. It is a complex site. Many of the whales are submerged and so we have made our best efforts to do the counts as we assess which animals are alive and which are dead – it is difficult,” Deka said.

He added that the team was forming a plan for the carcasses, with a preference to dispose of them at sea.

“Our focus in the next few days will be to try to contain the spread of carcasses because as the whales start to decompose, they will start to bloat and float and with the tides they will drift,” Deka said. “They will present a significant navigation hazard if we don’t contain them.”

The process is expected to take several days.

Carlyon, who on Tuesday highlighted the difficulty in determining the reasons why whales become stranded en masse, suggested that they could have approached the coast in search of food or “simple misadventure” by one or two whales that would have been followed by the rest of the pod. EFE-EPA


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