Rescued pilot whales join larger pod offshore

/ Source: The Associated Press

A group of whales rescued from an Australian beach have joined a larger pod in deep waters — a sign they are doing fine after their ordeal, an official said Monday.

Rescuers tagged five of 11 pilot whales they plucked from the beach in southern Tasmania state Sunday with satellite tracking devices so they could follow the animals' progress.

It was the first time tracking devices had been used in a whale rescue in Australia.

By Monday morning, the tagged whales had found a larger pod of whales and were swimming east toward migration routes known to be used by humpback whales, said wildlife officer David Pemberton.

"Not only have they survived being put back in the water after their traumatic ordeal but they've also found each other and are traveling with each other," said Pemberton, who is from Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries and Water.

"Previously, rescue attempts have been something of a hope and a prayer," Pemberton said. "Now we know that the rescue efforts are well worth it, we have the evidence that tells us so."

Whales that become beached are sometimes known to return in confusion to dangerously shallow waters after being freed, dismaying rescuers.

The pod is maternal, meaning it consists only of females and calves. When the 64 stranded mothers and their young were found on Saturday, 52 had already died and one died overnight despite volunteers spending the night pouring water over the animal to keep it from overheating.

Dozens of volunteers and government wildlife officers used giant slings to hoist the 11 survivors into trucks and drive them to a deep-water beach in Tasmania. They were released Sunday afternoon, some 7.5 miles away on Tasmania's northwest coast.

The size of the 11 whales was not known, but a female pilot whale can measure up to 16 feet and weigh up to 1.5 tons.

Strandings are not uncommon in Tasmania, where the whales pass by on their migration to and from Antarctic waters. It is not known why whales get stranded.

Pilot whales are members of the dolphin family but are considered to behave more like whales. However, because of their social nature and the fact they travel together in large groups, mass strandings can occur.