Sydney, 23 September 2020 (dpa/MIA) — Rescuers are attempting to save the last few whales still alive on Tasmania’s west coast in Australia’s worst mass stranding, before facing the grim task of removing hundreds of carcasses from the area.
Of the approximately 470 pilot whales that became stranded at several sites at Macquarie Heads this week, so far 88 have been freed and released out to sea, rescuers told reporters on Thursday.
“We expect that count to grow by the end of the day,” said Nic Deka, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manager.
He stressed that all figures are estimates and that they may change as more assessments are made.
A total of 380 whales have been confirmed dead in the incident.
Final rescue attempts are expected to conclude within the next 24 hours, with euthanasia being considered for four of the animals.
“There’s a small number of animals that we’ve attempted to release and it hasn’t worked… The most humane course of action is to euthanize at this point,” Marine Conservation Program biologist Kris Carlyon said.
On Monday, around 270 whales became stranded across three locations at Macquarie Harbour. One-third were already dead before rescue efforts could begin.
Another 200 were found dead south of the original site on Wednesday morning.
Deka said crews will now focus on collecting and disposing of carcasses, which could take several days.
“The best preference is disposal at sea… The strategy is collect and contain, and when the conditions are suitable we’ll take them out to sea.”
A TasPorts barge from Devonport will be the main vessel used to transport the animals out to sea.
During the week, crews at the site described emotional scenes as the whales could be heard calling out to each other in distress.
Pilot whales are a very social species and there were concerns many would return to the stranded herd after having been rescued.
This was only the case with a few of the animals, Carlyon said.
The cause of mass strandings is often unknown but Carlyon said they may have been drawn into the coast to feed.
Experts also say that due to their social group behavior, if one whale loses its way and strands, the rest of the pod will often want to swim to its aid.
This week’s mass stranding surpasses the country’s previous 1996 record when around 320 pilot whales were stranded at Dunsborough in Western Australia.
The last time Tasmania had an event of this scale involving long-finned pilot whales was at Stanley on Tasmania’s north-west in 1935.