HOBART, Australia — A day after 230 whales were found stranded on the wild and remote west coast of Tasmania, Australia, only 35 are still alive, although rescue efforts will continue on Thursday.
Half of the pilot whales stranded in Port Macquarie were thought to be alive on Wednesday, Tasmania’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment said.
But Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manager Brendon Clark said overnight rough surf took its toll.
“We classified the animals yesterday and as part of our initial assessment we have identified the most likely surviving animals of the approximately 230 stranded animals. Today’s focus will be on rescue and release operations,” Clark said nearby Strahan told reporters.
“We have about 35 surviving animals on the beach… The main focus this morning will be saving and releasing these animals,” Clark added.
The whales were stranded two years ago, a day after the largest mass stranding in Australian history was discovered at the same port.
About 470 long-finned pilot whales were stranded on a sandbar on September 21, 2020. After a week-long effort, 111 of these whales were rescued, but the rest died.
The entrance to the port is a notoriously shallow and dangerous passage known as the Gate of Hell.
Linton Kringle, a local salmon farmer who helped with relief efforts in 2020, said the latest challenge will be more difficult.
“Last time they were actually in port, it was calm, we could handle them there, we could get the boat to them,” Klinger said.
“But right on the beach, you can’t take a boat there – it’s too shallow, too rough. If we can’t swim them out, my idea is to try and get them on the car,” Kringle added.
Vanessa Pirotta, a wildlife scientist specializing in marine mammals, said it was too early to explain why strandings occurred.
“The fact that we’re seeing similar species in the same location at the same time, and the fact that there’s another stranding in the same location, might provide some indication that there may be an environmental factor here,” Pirotta said.
West Coast City Council general manager David Midson urged people to stay awake.
“Whales are a protected species and it is illegal to disturb the carcass even if they are dead,” the environment department said.
Fourteen sperm whales were spotted on Kings Island, part of Tasmania in Bass Strait, between Melbourne and Tasmania’s northern coast, on Monday afternoon.
Olaf Menek, a marine scientist at Griffith University, said it was unusual for a sperm whale to wash up ashore. Warmer temperatures could also alter ocean currents and move the whales’ traditional food, he said.
“They’ll be going to different regions and looking for different food sources,” Menek said. “When they do, they’re not in the best shape because they can go hungry, so that can lead them to take more risks and possibly even closer to shore.”
Pilot whales are notorious for mass strandings for reasons that are not entirely clear.