Mystery of mass whale beachings in Tasmania

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Volunteers worked frantically to save dozens of stranded whales and dolphins in Tasmania yesterday after more than 100 died in mass beachings on two offshore islands.

Volunteers worked frantically to save dozens of stranded whales and dolphins in Tasmania yesterday after more than 100 died in mass beachings on two offshore islands.

Local people working with National Parks and Wildlife officers rescued 27 whales at Maria Island, off north-western Tasmania, by sliding the animals - which weigh up to a tonne each - on to tarpaulins and dragging them into deep water. They used heavy machinery to dig trenches in the sand to make the task easier.

The island's rugged beaches are littered with giant carcasses. On Sunday, a total of 97 pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins were found dead on King Island, east of Tasmania, after a mysterious mass stranding. Yesterday, a separate pod of 53 whales, 19 of them dead, was found on Maria Island.

About 60 volunteers are trying to rescue those that are still alive. Andrew Irvine, from the Tasmanian Department of Environment, said: "We're trying to keep the animals cool, first and foremost. We're trying to get them back into the water and do what we can to save as many as we can."

Tests are to be done on the dead mammals to try to ascertain the reasons for the two beachings, which follow the deaths of 120 whales and dolphins off Tasmania last year. Some scientists speculated at the time that the animals might have been fleeing predators, such as killer whales.

Mark Hindell, a whale researcher at the University of Tasmania , told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that beachings tended to peak every decade or so. Cyclical climatic events that brought cold water and nutrients from Antarctica closer to the Australian coast might be responsible, he said.

A rescue team flown to King Island on Sunday had to split into two groups after the second stranding was reported.

Warwick Brennen, a spokesman for the Department of Environment, described the scene on King Island. "It is quite grim. You've got a large number of spectacular animals that are dead. There are some baby whales as well, so it's not a pleasant sight," he said. "Why strandings occur is really one of the great mysteries. But we'll look into things like local weather patterns, to see if we can shed some light."

Comments