About a third of the 270 whales stranded on a sandbar on Tasmania’s West Coast have died, rescuers said on Tuesday morning.
The whales were discovered on Monday stranded on a sandbar at Macquarie Heads, near Strahan – the first large scale whale stranding in Tasmania for at least a decade.
Rescuers are racing against the clock to save as many of the remaining whales as possible, with rescue efforts focused on those with the best chance of survival. The whales that are simply too big or in too difficult a location will be left for last, meaning their chances of survival are a bit grim.
“In terms of mass strandings in Tasmania, this is up there with the trickiest we’ve ever had to deal with,” Marine Conservation Program wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon told the ABC this morning.
The public is being urged to stay away from the area, as there’s little they can do in a practical sense to help, and large whales thrashing around are a danger.
The whales are stranded in three different sites, with about 200 stuck on the sandbar off the Macquarie Heads boat ramp. Another 30 are several hundred metres away on another sandbar, the Marine Conservation Program said, while yet another 30 are stranded along nearby Ocean Beach.
“It’s a pretty sad sight, really,” Guy Grining, who flew over the whales in a helicopter, told the ABC yesterday. “There’s probably 25 whales on Ocean Beach just outside the entrance and I reckon there’s probably a further 250 inside the harbour that are stuck on some sandy shoals.”
It’s one of the largest mass whale strandings Australia has ever seen.
“[Pilot whales] do go around in very large social groups but this is massive — one of the biggest strandings I’ve heard of,” Dr Mike Double, whale expert at the Australian Antarctic Division, told The Australian. “It is unusually large.”
Although the scale of this stranding is new, it’s common for whales to run into trouble in Tasmania. Experts haven’t been able to point to any one reason, but disorientation caused by complex coastlines, prey coming close to shore, or plain old misadventure could point to the cause.
Whatever the reason – I’m gonna need the rest of these whales to pull through, okay?