29 November 2004

Whales beach en mass off Australia

Hobart - A second pod of 17 whales has died in a mysterious mass beaching on King Island in the Bass Strait off Australia's south coast following the fatal stranding of 80 whales and dolphins at the weekend, wildlife officials said on Monday.

Another 50 pilot whales were also reported to have stranded themselves on Maria Island, some 500km away to the south east of Australia's island state of Tasmania.

Rescuers were on their way to the area to try to drag the mammals back to sea, a spokesperson for Tasmania's environment department Warwick Brennan said.

He said the success of the rescue operation would depend on the condition of the animals and the depth of the water.

Brennan said rescuers had counted the bodies of 55 long-finned pilot whales and 25 dolphins stranded on a remote beach of King Island between Tasmania and the Australian mainland.

Local police herded a further 30 dolphins and 12 whales out to sea late on Sunday.

It is not known why the mammals are stranding themselves but a team of scientists has gone to King Island to help with post-mortems as part of the process of trying to discover a reason.

Locals first noticed the stranded animals on Sunday afternoon and immediately pitched in to try to save them.

"It is quite grim," Brennan said. "You've got a large number of spectacular animals that are dead on the beach. There are some baby whales as well, so it's not a pleasant sight."

The weekend stranding was the second in a year involving bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales on Tasmania's west coast.


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