Dozens of pilot whales die in mass stranding on Australian beach

Around a hundred manage to return to the sea

Arpan Rai
Thursday 25 April 2024 11:18 BST
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File: Beached whales die in Scotland

At least 31 pilot whales died after beaching in Western Australia on Thursday even as more than 100 managed to return to the sea.

After the mass stranding was discovered at Toby’s Inlet in Geographe Bay near the tourist town of Dunsborough, hundreds of volunteers joined marine wildlife experts to help rescue the mammals.

Ian Wiese, a whale researcher, said he saw “well over 200” whales along the beach.

“There’s 31, I think, deceased but the rest got away, which is an amazing story,” Mr Wiese told ABC News.

“When I first arrived, there was, I think, 160 in the water, almost out of the water, and there were a couple of hundred people who were with the whales, they were trying to comfort them and make sure that their heads were out of the water so they could breathe. And then after an hour or so, all of a sudden the ones that were in the water that were still alive left and went out to sea,” Mr Wiese said.

“They may well decide to come back to shore somewhere on another beach nearby or something,” he added. “That often happens, but we’re hopeful that they won’t.”

Pilot whales are known to share strong social bonds, so when one gets into difficulty and strands, the rest often follow, according to the University of Western Australia.

The Western Australia Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has confirmed the death of 26 whales so far.

A spokesperson for the department said there were four pods of up to 160 pilot whales in total spread across about 500 metres.

“Unfortunately, 26 whales that were stranded on the beach have died,” the spokesperson added.

“A team of experienced staff, including wildlife officers, marine scientists, veterinarians are on site or on their way.”

They are trying to keep the animals together and away from the beach, the spokesperson added.

The spokesperson, citing previous such strandings, pointed out that “these events usually result in the beached animals having to be euthanized as the most humane outcome”.

The state’s park and wildlife agency shared photos of several beached whales and a crowd of people near them.

At that time, an additional 20 whales were reportedly in a pod about 1.5km offshore and 110 whales formed a pod closer to the beach, the agency said.

The pod of 110 whales was “sticking together offshore” and was likely to come toward the beach, regional wildlife officer Pia Courtis said.

“Unfortunately the outcome for our pilot whales once they strand on the beach is generally not good. We have high numbers of animals that end up dying,” she added.

Authorities have asked people in the area to abide by directions of the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

“The highest priority at mass whale stranding events is always human safety followed by animal welfare,” they said.

“We want all staff and volunteers to go home safe.”

Western Australia has seen several mass whale strandings. In July last year, more than 50 pilot whales died after stranding on a remote beach in the region.

The largest whale stranding was in 1996, when at least 320 pilot whales were beached at Dunsborough.

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