Rescue effort under way after some 230 whales beached in Tasmania

An estimated 230 whales have been stranded on Tasmania’s west coast, just days after 14 sperm whales were found beached on an island off the northwestern Tasmania coast.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said on Wednesday that marine conservation experts were traveling to the site of a mass stranding of what appeared to be pilot whales on Ocean Beach near Macquarie Harbor.

Only half of the whales are thought to still be alive, the department said in a statement.

“Marine wildlife experts will assess the scene and the situation to plan an appropriate response,” the department said.

“Stranding response in this area is complex. If it is determined there is a need for help from the general public, a request will be made through various avenues,” it added.

A team from the Marine Conservation Program was assembling whale rescue gear and heading to the area.

A resident told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the whales were visible near the entrance to Macquarie Harbor and described the stranding as a “massive event”.

David Midson, general manager of the West Coast Council, urged people to stay clear, and the department also warned that as a protected species, it was an offense to interfere even with the carcass of a deceased whale.

Griffith University marine scientist Olaf Meynecke said it was unusual for sperm whales to wash ashore. He said that warmer temperatures could be changing the ocean currents and moving the whale’s traditional food sources.

“They will be going to different areas and searching for different food sources,” Meynecke said.

“When they do this, they are not in the best physical condition because they might be starving so this can lead them to take more risks and maybe go closer to shore.”

Australia’s Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek said in a tweet that the reports of a mass stranding were distressing and she thanked emergency workers who were responding on the ground.

Fourteen sperm whales were discovered on Monday afternoon on King Island, part of the state of Tasmania in the Bass Strait between Melbourne and Tasmania’s northern coast.

The department said it is not unusual for sperm whales to be sighted in Tasmania.

The pilot whale is notorious for stranding in mass numbers, for reasons that are not entirely understood.

Two years ago, about 470 long-finned pilot whales were found beached on sandbars off Tasmania’s west coast in the largest mass-stranding on record in Australia.

After a weeklong effort, 111 of the whales were rescued but the rest had died.

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