A group of about 230 whales has been stranded on Tasmania’s west coast, sparking a rescue mission by marine conservationists who believe about half of the mammals are dead.
The mass stranding is taking place on Ocean Beach near Macquarie Harbour, south of Strahan, and a number of whales are trapped on a sandy expanse in the harbor, according to the Tasmanian government.
It is believed to be pilot whales and it appears that about half have died, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said.
The stranding is the second in a matter of days after 14 dead sperm whales washed up on King Island on Monday.
Department marine conservationists headed for the west coast on Wednesday with whale rescue equipment in tow.
They would work with local police and Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service personnel, the department said.
Marine wildlife experts would look on site to find out how they should respond.
The area presented complexity for rescue workers and the public would be called on to assist if needed, the department said.
Wildlife biologists and a veterinarian are still investigating how the group of young males stranded.
It was quite unusual for sperm whales to wash up on shore, marine scientist Dr. Olaf Meynecke of Griffith University told AAP.
“Are these animals sick or have they suffered from something?” said Dr. Meynecke.
“We know that massive seismicity is planned for gas and oil exploration throughout the area, so I’m not sure if there was any seismicity.
“There could also be natural geomagnetic changes that could affect these animals.”
Warmer temperatures could also alter ocean currents and displace the whale’s traditional food sources, said Dr. Meynecke.
“They go to different areas and look for different food sources.
“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.”
It’s only been two years since hundreds of whales died after being stranded in Macquarie Harbour.
The 470 long-finned pilot whales were found on sandbanks in September 2020 in what was Australia’s largest ever mass stranding.
Pilot whales became more common because they migrate in large numbers, said Dr. Meynecke.
Usually, when one whale runs aground, the others follow.
“Not because they’re just blindly stupid, but because of the emotional connection with the others,” he said.
The Natural Resources Department is guided by an Incident Manual, which has been extensively revised since the stranding in 2020 to determine response.
It is an offense to interfere with a whale carcass.