90 whales have died after being stranded in a remote bay in southern Australia, with rescue teams warning on Tuesday that the mission to save another 180 would still prove to be “challenging”.
Scientists said that two large pods Long winged pilot whale Stuck on a sandbar in Macquarie Harbor on the rugged and sparsely populated west coast of Tasmania.
Images from the scene showed the shallow waters to be thick with scores of large slick black mammals for space.
Rescuers can be seen descending into the water to reach the whale as they attempted to divert them from the deep passageway.
Government marine biologist Chris Carlyan said that “one third” of the 270 animals were dead by late Monday, and that the survivors would likely be “challenged” to carry them for several days.
Although large-scale whale strandings occur frequently in Tasmania, such a large group has not been seen in the area for more than a decade.
Animals can only be reached by boat, limiting the number of rescuers who can reach them.
About 60 people – including volunteers and local fish farm workers – are involved in the rescue effort.
They are battling cold, wet conditions as well as the unusual tides of the harbor which are dictated by barometric pressure.
“In the context of large-scale whale stranding in Tasmania, it is there with the trick,” Carlyon told reporters in the nearby town of Strahan.
However, Carlyon said that a partially submerged whale should be able to survive for several days, as it would take his team to complete the task due to inclement weather.
“It’s very ugly for people on the ground, but as far as whales run at their ideal – it’s keeping them wet, it’s keeping them cool,” he said.
Carlyon said rescuers would still “triage” the whale, which is the healthiest and most accessible.
“Notorious whale trap”
Most of the 30-strong group on a nearby beach were found dead on Monday, while about 60 other whales on sandbars are also believed to have died.
After the whale is back in the water, Carlyon said, the biggest challenge will be to bring social organisms out of the Sandbard-Riddled harbor and back into the open sea.
Scientists said it was unclear what caused the latest stranding, but Carlyan suggested that the pods derailed after following close to the shoreline or one or two whales that had strayed.
Karen Stockin, an expert on marine mammals at Massey University in New Zealand, said Tasmania was a “special hotspot” for pilot whale strandings in large pods.
“It seems to be an infamous whale trap … you do there to get these massive wandering incidents,” she told AFP.
Stockin said that while pilot whales were more resilient than other whale species, rescuers faced a race against the clock because mammals could overheat, their muscles deteriorate and their limbs from their natural environment Are crushed out.
Their high social nature was also expected to work against the rescue effort, he said, with the possibility of re-stranding themselves to stay close to some free whale pods.
“Time is never your friend,” he said. “So the more quickly rescue operations are doing without doubt, the more likely there is an increase (chance) of survival.”
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