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Nearly 200 whales die in Tasmania despite rescue mission by marine conservationists

Only 35 of 230 stranded whales have survived on Tasmania’s west coast as rescue and release efforts continue.

Marine conservationists launched a rescue mission on Ocean Beach near Macquarie Harbour, on Wednesday but incident controller Brendan Clarke said, tragically, most of the mammals died.

“We positioned them overnight, again so that we could assess them this morning, and those ones that have survived – which we’ve got approximately 35 surviving animals out on the beach – the primary focus this morning will be on the rescue and release of those animals,” he told reporters on Thursday morning.

Mr Clarke said the exposed conditions on Ocean Beach contributed to the high death rate.

Wildlife scientist Vanessa Pirotta said it was difficult to pinpoint how the whales became stranded.

“What’s really interesting is that we’ve had the same species strand at exactly the same time and date as a similar stranding two years ago,” she told SBS News.

“For every single stranding around the world, we have absolutely no idea of generally why these happen … it could be illness, missed navigation, there might be one member of the pod that has just travelled the wrong way and the rest followed, there might have been something that startled them … there are so many different variables at play here. ”

Dr Pirotta said every whale stranding posed a logistical challenge.

“They’re heavy, they’re big, they can move and they can potentially harm humans – not intentionally, but they’re stressed – so these animals are really at risk from the moment they land on shore,” Dr Pirotta said.
One of the sperm whales that washed ashore on King Island, north of Tasmania
One of the sperm whales that washed ashore on King Island, north of Tasmania Source: AAP / Supplied by Sarah Cook
“Then the clock starts ticking.”
The stranding is the second in a matter of days, after 14 dead sperm whales washed ashore at King Island on Monday.

A spokesperson for Tasmania’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment said it was possible the whales stranded in King Island were “part of the same bachelor pod – a group of younger male sperm whales associating together after leaving the maternal group.”

“Members of the public are reminded it is an offence to interfere with protected wildlife, including being in possession of parts of a dead whale, and are asked to keep their distance,” they warned.

Changes in weather and water temperatures have been cited as possible causes for the strandings.
A supplied image of one of the sperm whales washed ashore on King Island, north of Tasmania.
A supplied image of one of the sperm whales washed ashore on King Island, north of Tasmania. Source: AAP / Supplied by Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania
Wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon said more deaths were unfortunately inevitable.
“It’s inevitable we may lose a few more. They have been stranded for over 24 hours. They’re in a highly exposed stressful location,” Dr Carlyon told ABC News.

It comes two years after the worst whale stranding in the nation’s history occurred in the same location.

About 470 pilot whales were found beached at Macquarie Harbour and the vast majority died.