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Rescue efforts underway for about 230 whales beached in Australia

The mass-stranding of what appear to be pilot whales on the island of Tasmania occurred days after 14 sperm whales were found beached on another island nearby.
/ Source: Associated Press

HOBART, Australia — About 230 whales have been stranded on Tasmania’s west coast, just days after 14 sperm whales were found beached on an island off the southeastern coast.

The pod, which is stranded on Ocean Beach, appears to be pilot whales and at least half are presumed to still be alive, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said Wednesday.

A team from the Marine Conservation Program was assembling whale rescue gear and heading to the area, the department said.

At least half the whales are presumed to still be alive, officials said.
At least half the whales are presumed to still be alive, officials said.Andrew Breen / AP

A resident told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. the whales were visible near the entrance to Macquarie Harbor and described the stranding as a “massive event.”

David Midson, general manager of the West Coast Council, urged people to stay clear.

“Whales are a protected species, even once deceased, and it is an offense to interfere with a carcass,” the environment department said.

Griffith University marine scientist Olaf Meynecke said it’s unusual for sperm whales to wash ashore. He said that warmer temperatures could also be changing the ocean currents and moving the whales’ traditional food sources.

“They will be going to different areas and searching for different food sources,” Meynecke said. “When they do this they are not in the best physical condition because they might be starving, so this can lead them to take more risks and maybe go closer to shore.”

Fourteen sperm whales were discovered Monday afternoon on King Island, part of the state of Tasmania in the Bass Strait between Melbourne and Tasmania’s northern coast. The department said it is not unusual for sperm whales to be sighted in Tasmania.

The pilot whale is notorious for stranding in mass numbers, for reasons that are not entirely understood.

Two years ago, about 470 long-finned pilot whales were found beached on sandbars off Tasmania’s west coast in the largest mass-stranding on record in Australia. After a weeklong effort, 111 of those whales were rescued but the rest died.