Australian rescuers work to save stranded pilot whales on Tasmania

Katie Ramirez
September 22, 2020

About 270 whales got into difficulty on a sandbank at Macquarie Heads - near Strahan, about 190 kilometres from Hobart - yesterday.

Rescuers were trying to refloat hundreds of whales stranded on a sandbar off the remote west coast of the Australian island of Tasmania on Tuesday, hoping to end one of the country's worst beaching events.

"We have now freed a small number successfully that appear to have stayed out at sea and are now scaling up that approach", Parks and Wildlife regional manager Nic Deka said shortly before 1:00pm.

Marine Conservation Program wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon said most of the whales were not accessible by boat and that by Monday evening one-third were already presumed dead.

The challenging and large area the whales are spread across has hindered rescue efforts.

However, Carlyon said numerous partially submerged whales should be able to survive for the several days it would take his team to complete the task, in part due to the inclement weather.

"Some animals may be simply too big or in an unsuitable location".

The operation could take "days", he said.

'This morning's phase will be critical in determining what is possible, ' he told reporters on Tuesday.

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'In terms of mass strandings in Tasmania, this is the trickiest we've had to deal with, ' he added, saying the mission could take days.

"Will we have to herd them out or will we have to move them by some other means?"

At least 90 pilot whales have died in a mass stranding off of Australia, and crews are racing to save another 180 from the same fate.

Around 40 government scientists, 20 police officers, and local fish farmers and volunteers were involved in the rescue attempt, which experts said was the hardest they had encountered.

With the clock ticking, they're forced to triage by starting with whales that have the best chance of success, said Carlyon. "If the conditions stay the same they can survive quite a few days".

While mass whale strandings occur relatively often in Tasmania, such a large group has not been seen in the area for more than a decade.

Rescuers will reportedly give a new estimate of how many whales have perished on Wednesday.

Whales have "very tight family bonds" so if one whale is stranded, others may hear its calls and follow, leading to an entire pod being beached, according to the department.

Mr Deka said multiple rescue methods would be trialled and a lot would depend on how the whales respond.

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