Wildlife Team Rescues 32 Beached Pilot Whales in Australia After Nearly 200 Die in Mass-Beaching

by Alex Falls

In a mysterious but tragic turn of events, over 200 pilot whales became stranded on the beach of Tasmania in Australia on Wednesday. By the following day, wildlife experts rescued 32 of the 230 whales that were found stranded on the wild and remote west coast of Australia.

Half the pod of pilot whales found stranded in Macquarie Harbour were presumed to still be alive, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said on Wednesday. But unfortunately, only 35 of those whales managed to survive the pounding surf overnight until Thursday morning when rescue efforts could resume, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manager Brendon Clark said.

“Of the 35 that were remaining alive this morning, we’ve managed to refloat, rescue and release … 32 of those animals, and so that’s a terrific result,” Clark told reporters late Thursday at nearby Strahan.

“We still have three alive on the far northern end of Ocean Beach, but because of access restrictions, predominantly tidal influences, we just haven’t been able to access those three animals safely today. But they’ll be our priority in the morning,” Clark added.

This mass stranding occurs exactly two years removed from a similar event at the same harbor when 470 long-finned pilot whales became stranded. The notoriously shallow channel is dangerous for marine life which can get caught in the coves as tides recede.

The channel has become so notorious for these mass strandings that it’s been given the nickname “Hell’s Gate.” The incident two years ago was slightly more successful. They managed to rescue 111 of those 470 whales.

“These mass stranding events are typically the result of accidental sort of coming to shore. And that’s through a whole host of reasons,” Marine Conservation Program biologist Kris Carlyon said.

32 Pilot Whales Survived Thanks to the Efforts of the Community

The Department of Natural Resources issued an official statement once the 32 surviving whales were released back into the ocean. More than 50 individuals from the department and from local volunteers assisted in the effort that saved those whales. Clark called it a “massive effort” from everyone involved.

“The experienced trained staff and volunteers were able to achieve this in the challenging west coast conditions,” Clark said. “This included soft sand on Ocean Beach, which made accessing some areas and maneuvering vehicles and equipment difficult. Assistance from local aquaculture companies with vessels and a telehandler to help lift whales has been invaluable. With today’s success and we thank everyone for their efforts.”

Many marine lives were saved thanks to the efforts of the people in the area. But a great deal of work remains for the clean-up effort to commence.

“Over the coming days the team will focus on the removal and disposal operations of about 200 deceased whales. Weather conditions will determine the timing for the removal of the whales. We understand it’s hard for people to watch from afar. But thank them for allowing our teams to focus on the critical work required for the response,” Mr. Clark said.