Rescuers rush to save stranded whales in Tasmania after a third die

Sydney, Australia, Sep 22 (efe-epa).- Around a third of the 270 pilot whales stranded on the west coast of the southern Australian state of Tasmania have died, a biologist involved in the rescue said Tuesday, adding that the complicated operation to save the remainder could take days.

On Monday the first whales were found, followed by many more in the following hours.

About 270 whales are stranded on two sandbars and one beach near Strahan and Macquarie Heads on the west coast of the island, the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment said in a statement Tuesday.

About 60 people are involved in the rescue operation, and a number of methods to save them were being considered Tuesday, the first being to refloat the mammals and assess their behavior.

“This entire operation, a lot of it depends how these animals respond once they’ve got water under them and are free floating,” said the state government’s Marine Conservation Program (MCP) wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon at a morning press conference.

“We’ve got animals spread over a large area and in a really challenging location, so we’re going to basically take the animals with the best chance and the ones we’re able to deal with – some animals may be too big or in an unsuitable location,” he said, adding that “about a third of the animals are deceased.”

Carlyon said the rescue efforts may take days, depending on tides and weather conditions.

“These are long-finned pilot whales, they are quite a robust species. They are wet, they are cool, and today we have some really suitable weather for them,” he said. “If conditions stay the same, they can survive for quite a few days.”

He added that strong tides predicted for the coming days will be an opportunity they will take “maximum advantage of.”

Carlyon, who 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.

It is not the first time that whales have stranded on the beaches of the island state.

“Mass strandings in Tasmania have occurred due to a range of reasons, for example: misadventure, illness or injury of one or more members of a group, disorientation caused by complex or shallow waterways or rough seas, or a flight response from a perceived threat,” MCP said on its website.

It added that Tasmania is the only Australian state where mass strandings of whales and dolphins regularly occur, and the MCP responds to these events on average once every two or three weeks. EFE-EPA


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