HOBART, Australia (AP) – Wildlife experts on Thursday rescued 32 of the 230 whales stranded a day earlier on the wild and remote west coast of the Australian island state of Tasmania.
Half a pod of pilot whales stranded in Macquarie Harbor were estimated to be still alive on Wednesday, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said.
But only 35 survived the pounding surf overnight, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manager Brendan Clark said.
“Of the 35 that survived this morning, we were able to refloat, rescue and release 32 of those animals and so that’s a great result,” Clarke told reporters late Thursday in nearby Strahan.
“We still have three alive at the north end of Ocean Beach, but due to access restrictions, mainly tidal effects, we were unable to safely access those three animals today. But they will be our priority in the morning,” Clarke added.
The whales have been beached for two years since the day after the worst mass terror attack in Australia’s history was discovered in the same port.
On September 21, 2020, approximately 470 long-finned pilot whales were found stranded on sandbars. After a week-long effort, 111 whales were rescued but the rest died.
The entrance to the harbor is a notoriously shallow and dangerous channel known as Hell’s Gate.
Chris Carlyon, a biologist with the Marine Conservation Program, said the dead whales would be tested for toxins in their systems that could explain the disaster.
“These massive stranding events are usually the result of an accidental sort of coming ashore, and that’s through a number of factors,” Carlyon said.
Local salmon farmer Linton Kringle helped with the 2020 rescue effort and said Thursday’s challenge was more difficult because the whales were in shallower and more exposed water.
14 sperm whales have been discovered Beach on King Island in the Bass Strait between mainland Australia and Tasmania on Monday afternoon.
Griffith University marine scientist Olaf Meneke said it was unusual for sperm whales to wash ashore. He said warmer temperatures could also alter ocean currents and displace the whales’ traditional food.