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Australia Race against time to save whales before efforts move to 'retrieval and disposal'

00:06  23 september  2020
00:06  23 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

Around 270 whales stranded on sandbar off Australia's Tasmania

  Around 270 whales stranded on sandbar off Australia's Tasmania Around 270 whales stranded on sandbar off Australia's TasmaniaGovernment scientists said it appeared that at least 25 of the animals, believed to be pilot whales, had already died. Pilot whales are a species of oceanic dolphin that grows 7 metres (23 ft) long and can weigh up to 3 tonnes.

Some 270 pilot whales have become stranded on sandbars off Tasmania's remote coast, with authorities set to launch a rescue mission on "At times like these, Tasmanians work together to respond as quickly and compassionately, and my thoughts are with those assisting with the efforts ."

32ft baby whale returns to sea after volunteers use JCBs to save seven ton mammal that was stranded for 24 hours on a Rio They dug a channel out to the ocean before tidal waters carried it back out. But none of these efforts worked until the baby whale tried to help itself and got deeper into the sea.

an animal swimming in the water: A third of the whales have died, authorities say. (ABC News: Edith Bevin) © Provided by ABC NEWS A third of the whales have died, authorities say. (ABC News: Edith Bevin)

Exhausted marine experts and volunteers on Tasmania's west coast are focussed on saving as many stranded pilot whales as they can in a small window of time.

So far rescue teams have managed to free about 25 of the 270 whales stranded on sandbars off Strahan, but many more have died.

Parks and Wildlife regional manager Nic Deka said there was a finite period within which they would be dealing with live animals and that was likely to end towards the end of the week.

Mass whale strandings in Tasmania are not uncommon and pilot whales are the 'main culprits', scientists say

  Mass whale strandings in Tasmania are not uncommon and pilot whales are the 'main culprits', scientists say As rescuers prepare to try to save a large pod of stranded whales off Tasmania's West Coast, researchers explain such events are not uncommon in that state, with one scientist saying he helped a pod in distress at the same spot in 2011.On Monday, around 270 pilot whales got into difficulty on a sandbank at Macquarie Heads, near Strahan on Tasmania's west coast, about 190 kilometres from Hobart.

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"I would expect that we would shift through a transition from rescue into the retrieval and disposal effort…we're just considering options at the present time," he said.

'It's going to be a huge operation'

James Tucker from the Marine Science Centre at Southern Cross University in New South Wales has spent a lot of time on the scene of whale carcass disposals.

"It's going to be a huge operation with that many animals," he said.

Mr Tucker said there were four main options for dealing with whale carcasses: dragging them out to sea, burying them, leaving them to decompose or disposing of them at a waste management facility.

He said burying that number of carcasses would be a big job, given even one whale can require a significant size burial pit.

Australia saves 25 stranded pilot whales, rescue efforts continue

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"Although pilot whales are small there are just so many," he added.

Each pilot whale weighs approximately three tonnes.

"If it is a location where leaving a lot of the carcasses in situ is viable, that may be considered…the most natural option is to the leave the carcasses where they are to decompose," Mr Tucker said.

However, leaving the whales where they are would attract white sharks.

White sharks 'hang around'

Mr Tucker said white shark behaviour changes around whale carcasses.

"We know that large sharks including white sharks do frequently scavenge on whale carcasses, its a big source of food for those species," he said

"Some of our latest research has shown that when there's a stranded whale carcass on the beach… they tend to hang around the area a bit more, so that could potentially increase the risk of their being an interaction between a human being in the water and a shark," he added.

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Research a silver lining in the tragedy

The loss of so many whales will provide a rare experience for scientists.

"These events are actually a really important part of marine mammal research because its so rare that we have interactions with these creatures," Mr Tucker said.

"We never really get a chance to study them, so they are a massive resource to researchers around the world."

It is expected samples from the carcasses will be taken for researchers working on a range of different study projects.


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