HOBART, Australia (AP) – Wildlife experts on Thursday rescued 32 of the 230 whales that were found stranded a day earlier on the wild and remote west coast of the Australian island state of Tasmania.
Half the pod of a pilot whale found stranded in Macquarie Harbor on Wednesday is believed to be still alive, Tasmania’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment said.
But only 35 survived the surf overnight, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manager Brendon Clark said.
“Of the 35 that were alive this morning, we were able to resurface, rescue and release … 32 of those animals, so that’s a great result,” Clark told reporters late Thursday in nearby Strahan.
“We still have three alive at the far north end of Ocean Beach, but due to access restrictions, predominantly tidal, we just couldn’t safely access those three animals today. But they will be our priority in the morning,” added Clark.
The whales surfaced two years to the day after the largest mass stranding in Australian history it was discovered in the same port.
About 470 long-tailed pilot whales were found on September 21, 2020, stranded on the sandbanks. After a week-long effort, 111 of those whales were rescued, but the rest died.
The entrance to the harbor is a notoriously shallow and dangerous channel known as Hell’s Gate.
Marine Conservation Program biologist Kris Carlyon said the dead whales will be tested to see if there are toxins in their systems that could explain the disaster.
“These mass stranding events are usually the result of accidental strandings, for a variety of reasons,” Carlyon said.
Local salmon farmer Linton Kringle helped with the 2020 rescue and said Thursday’s challenge was more difficult because the whales were in shallower, more exposed waters.
Fourteen sperm whales were discovered Monday afternoon on the beach at King Island in the Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and Tasmania.
Griffith University marine scientist Olaf Meynecke said it was unusual for sperm whales to wash ashore. He said warmer temperatures could also change ocean currents and shift the whales’ traditional diet.