About 230 whales have been stranded on Tasmania’s west coast just days after 14 sperm whales were found on an island off the southeast coast.
The pod stranded on Ocean Beach appears to be pilot whales and at least half are believed to be alive, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said Wednesday.
A team from the Marine Conservation Program was assembling rescue equipment for whales and headed to the area, the department said.
A resident told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the whales were visible at the entrance to Macquarie Harbor and described the stranding as a “mass event”.
West Coast Council general manager David Midson urged people to stay away.
Whales are a protected species, even once they have died, and it is an offense to interfere with a carcass.
Food supply can be affected by changing currents
Marine scientist Olaf Meynecke of Griffith University said it is unusual for sperm whales to wash up on shore. He said warmer temperatures could also alter ocean currents and displace the whales’ traditional food.
“They go to different areas and look for different food sources,” Meynecke said. “If they do this they aren’t in the best physical shape because they might be starving, so it might lead them to take more risks and maybe move closer to shore.”
The pilot whale is notorious for beaching en masse, for reasons that are not fully understood.
Fourteen sperm whales were discovered Monday afternoon on King Island, part of the state of Tasmania in the Bass Strait between Melbourne and Tasmania’s north coast. The department said it is not uncommon for sperm whales to be sighted in Tasmania.
Two years ago, about 470 long-finned pilot whales were found on sandbars off the west coast of Tasmania in Australia’s largest-ever mass stranding. After a week’s effort, 111 of those whales were rescued, but the rest died.