27 October 2005

Tasmania: Dozens more whales have beached

Scores of pilot whales have died in the second mass stranding of the huge marine mammals in 24 hours on the Australian island state of Tasmania, officials said on Wednesday.

Wildlife rangers said a pod of about 80 pilot whales beached themselves at Marion Bay late Tuesday, just hours after nearly 60 of the animals died in an earlier mass stranding in the same spot.

"When we got here this morning there were about 70 dead whales scattered over a stretch of about a kilometre of beach," Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service spokesperson Liz Wren said.

"We've been able to put eight back in the water, but I'm afraid the rest died," she told reporters by mobile phone from the beach. "It's really terrible."

Dozens of volunteers and wildlife officials were involved in the rescue effort, she said.

Pilot whales, which are actually a large species of dolphin that can grow up to six metres long, frequently beach themselves in a phenomenon that remains a mystery to scientists.

Another Parks and Wildlife official, Ingrid Albion, said it appeared that one disorientated pilot whale in the first stranded group may have led the entire pod to a stranding.

"Maybe they've come in close looking for food, maybe the tide's been a bit different," she said on Australia Broadcasting Corporation radio.

"They use sonar so they can get confused when they come into sandy beaches," she said.

"Only one of them has to get in trouble and make a wrong turn and they'll actually call the rest of the pod to them."

On Tuesday, rescuers managed to push 10 of 67 stranded whales back out to sea.

Tasmania's rugged coastline has one of the highest stranding rates in the world.

Source: www.iol.co.za


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