AFP, posted on Thursday, September 22, 2022 at 12:51 pm.
About 200 pilot dolphins have died after being stranded on a beach in Tasmania, an island south of Australia, where rescuers managed to rescue a handful.
After a long and arduous day, the State Wildlife Service, deployed on the ground in challenging conditions, said on Thursday it had only managed to rescue 32 of the 226 stranded pilot whales.
“We have refloated mammals that were deemed fit for release,” marine biologist Sam Thalmann told AFP.
“All issued dolphin pilots are tagged,” he added. “Unfortunately, some of them may find themselves stranded, but we expect the vast majority to go back to sea.”
In anticipation of the arrival of help, the inhabitants mobilized: they covered the marine mammals with blankets, sprinkled them with buckets of sea water to keep them alive. Unfortunately, several people have already died.
Aerial footage shows dozens of shiny black animals washed up on Ocean Beach along a wide sandy beach that touches the cold waters of the Southern Ocean.
“Unfortunately, the mortality rate from this grounding is high. This is mainly due to the conditions at Ocean Beach,” said Brandon Clark, who leads operations.
“Environmental conditions, low tides on the open west coast of Ocean Beach certainly have implications for the animals,” he added.
Efforts will now turn to the serious task of disposing of the bodies of these cetaceans, which must be done safely.
Because the remains left in shallow water or on the shore can attract sharks or become carriers of diseases.
“There is still a lot of work to be done to dispose of the carcasses,” Thalmann said, adding that “valuable biological samples” need to be taken from the animals.
These samples could help scientists understand how and why “the animals got stuck there.”
“Of course, there are (are) local features that have caused this site to repeatedly become a mass beaching site for whales.”
Macquarie Harbor, where the phenomenon occurred, was the scene of another mass stranding nearly two years ago involving about 500 pilot dolphins.
More than 300 of them were then dead, despite the efforts of dozens of volunteers who fought for several days in the icy waters of Tasmania to free the animals.
– A possible “unfortunate event” –
The reasons for these large twists are not fully known.
The researchers speculated that they might be caused by groups of cetaceans huddling too close to shore after feeding.
These pilot whales, which can grow up to six meters, are very sociable animals and can follow members of their group who are lost and in danger.
This sometimes happens when old, sick or injured animals swim ashore and other cetaceans in the group follow them, trying to respond to distress calls from trapped animals.
Other researchers believe that gently sloping beaches, such as those in Tasmania, interfere with pilot dolphin sonar and trick them into believing they are on the high seas.
The event comes just hours after a dozen young sperm whales were found dead, also stranded, on King Island, between Tasmania and mainland Australia.
The reason for the death of sperm whales may be an “accident”, which refers to the local newspaper “Mercury” biologist Chris Carlyon from the conservation agency of this island nation.
It’s “the most common reason for stranding,” he explains. “Perhaps they were looking for food near the shore … they could be caught at low tide,” Carlyon said.
Stranding is also common in New Zealand, neighboring Australia.
According to official figures, about 300 animals fall ill every year.
A single strand can also involve several hundred animals when it comes to a large group of marine mammals, such as in 2017 when 700 pilot dolphins washed up on New Zealand’s shores together.