Wildlife experts on Thursday rescued 32,230 whales found a day earlier on the wild and remote west coast of Australia’s island nation of Tasmania.
Tasmania’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment said half of the pilot whales washed ashore from Macquarie Harbor were still alive on Wednesday.
Tasmania Parks and Conservation Service manager Brendon Clark said only 35 people had survived the surf overnight.
“Of the 35 that survived this morning, we’ve been able to refloat, rescue and release 32 of them and that’s a great result,” Clark told reporters in nearby Strahan late Thursday.
“We have three more alive at the north end of Ocean Beach, but due to access restrictions, mostly tidal effects, we just haven’t been able to get to those three animals safely today. But they will be our priority in the morning,” added Clark.
The reasons for the drift are unclear
Kris Carlyon, a marine conservation program biologist, said the dead whales are being tested to see if they have toxins in their systems that could explain the disaster.
“These mass stranding events are usually the result of random strandings, and there are many reasons for this,” Carlyon said.
Pilot whales are notorious for stranding en masse, for reasons that are not fully understood.
The whales beached two years to the day after the largest mass whale in Australian history was discovered in the same port.
About 470 finned pilot whales were found beached on sandbars off Tasmania’s west coast; after a week of effort, 111 of the whales were rescued, but the rest died.
Local salmon farmer Linton Kringle helped with the 2020 rescue and said Thursday’s challenge was more difficult because the whales were in shallower, more open waters.
In a separate development, 14 sperm whales were discovered on Monday afternoon on King Island, part of the state of Tasmania in Bass Strait between Melbourne and Tasmania’s north coast.
Olaf Meynecke, a marine scientist at Griffith University, said it was unusual for sperm whales to wash ashore. Warmer temperatures could also change ocean currents and move the whales’ traditional diet, he said.