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About 200 stranded pilot whales die on Australian beach

A day after 230 whales were stranded on the wild and remote western coast of the Australian island nation of Tasmania, only 35 were alive despite rescue efforts set to continue Thursday.

The Tasmania Department of Natural Resources and Environment said on Wednesday that half of the group of pilot whales stranded in Macquarie Harbor were still alive.

But the pounding surf took its toll overnight, said Brendon Clark, manager of Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service.

“We traumatized the animals yesterday as part of the preliminary assessment and we identified the animals that had the best chance of survival of the approximately 230 that were stranded. Today’s focus will be on rescue and release operations,” Clark told reporters in nearby Strahan.

“We have about 35 surviving animals on the beach … and this morning the primary focus will be on rescuing and releasing those animals,” Clark added.

The whales stranded in the same harbor two years after the discovery of the largest mass stranding in Australia’s history.

About 470 long-finned pilot whales were found on September 21, 2020, stuck on sandbanks. After a week’s 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.

Local salmon farmer Linton Kringle helped with the rescue in 2020 and said the latest challenge would be more difficult.

“Last time they were actually in the harbor and it’s pretty quiet and we could sort of deal with them there and we were able to get the boats out to them,” Kringle said.

‘But only on the beach you just can’t get a boat there – it’s too shallow, way too rough. My thoughts would be to get them on a vehicle if we can’t swim them out,” Kringle added.

Vanessa Pirotta, a naturalist specializing in marine mammals, said it was too early to explain why the stranding had occurred.

“The fact that we’ve seen similar species, at the same time, in the same location, returning in terms of stranding in the same spot, could be sort of an indication that there might be something around here,” Pirotta said.

West Coast Council council director David Midson urged people to stay away.

“Whales are a protected species, even once they have died, and it is an offense to interfere with a carcass,” the environmental agency said.

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 north coast.

Marine scientist Olaf Meynecke of Griffith University said it’s unusual for sperm whales to wash up on shore. He said warmer temperatures could also alter ocean currents and displace the whales’ traditional food.

“They go to different areas and look for different food sources,” Meynecke said. “If they do this they aren’t in the best physical shape because they might be starving, so it might lead them to take more risks and maybe move closer to shore.”

The pilot whale is notorious for beaching en masse, for reasons that are not fully understood.

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