Mass whale stranding rescue operation at Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbour saves around 30 out of 230

The whale rescue operation off Tasmania’s west coast has managed to refloat over 30 of the stranded animals – but around 200 could not be rescued.

Hundreds of pilot whales stranded yesterday at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour, known as Hell’s Gates.

It was exactly two years to the day since Australia’s worst recorded whale was stranded, also in the same harbor with the same species.

Most whales are stranded on Ocean Beach, while some are on a nearby stretch of sand in the harbor.

At a news conference on Thursday, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service incident controller Brendon Clark said five whales died overnight and just 35 remained alive on the beach this morning.

He said the whales had been in a more exposed area of ​​the coast, in contrast to the 2020 stranding, which took place in “harbour’s sheltered waters” – now believed to be the worst stranding event in Australia’s history.

“Unfortunately, we have a high mortality rate, largely due to the exposed conditions on the beach,” Mr Clark said.

Authorities said all 35 surviving whales were removed from the beach to deeper waters, with two later “stranding again” and returning to shore.

A stranded pilot whale is carried in a sling by boat to deeper water.
A stranded pilot whale is carried in a sling by boat to deeper water on Thursday.(ABC News: Chook Brooks)
whales on the beach.
Most whales are stranded at Ocean Beach.(Nine messages: Adam Reibel)

Today’s operation consisted of vehicleing the whales “with the best chance of survival” out of the sand and into the more sheltered waters of nearby Macquarie Heads, to be snared and tied to boats, which would then take them to deeper water drag .

The task of raising the whales was made easier with the help of “mechanical assistance” borrowed from an aquaculture company, with Mr Clark praising local salmon producers for their support in the form of equipment, people and boats.

Kris Carlyon of Tasmania’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE Tas) said the whales, which had survived as of Thursday, would be “stressed”.

“They had a long time at the beach. Our priority was to get them upright, stabilized, cool and wet,” he said.

dr Carlyon said despite training staff on the ground, it’s “always a confrontation.”

“It will probably hit a lot of us afterwards, but we have systems in place to support staff and volunteers,” he said.

dr Carlyon said it was impossible to tell if the animals on the beach were from the same herd as the one stranded in 2020 because animal tagging would have gone away two years ago.

He said measures such as acoustic devices to deter whales from future strandings have been explored but have so far not proved “workable” in practice.

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Most dead whales are stranded off Tasmania’s west coast.

Whales “squeak”, towels keep them wet

Staff from aquaculture companies Petuna and Huon were also among the first on the scene yesterday, helping to get the whales back to sea.

Petuna Aquaculture’s Tom Mountney said authorities and volunteers are preparing the whales to return to the sea.

“We’re just sort of raising the live whales, getting them onto the beach and then… a little plan of attack will be put in place this afternoon and evening to possibly get them back in the water tomorrow.” [Thursday]’ he said on Wednesday.

“Out of [Thursday] We will use our ships to bring whales into the water and attempt to retrieve them several hundred yards offshore.”

A man brings two buckets of water to a beached whale.
The whales need to be kept moist to keep them from overheating. (ABC News: Lachlan Bennett)
A man walks back to the surf to fill buckets with water near a beached whale.
It’s a constant struggle to keep the whales alive long enough to be returned to the ocean.(ABC News: Lachlan Bennett)

Mr Mountney said rescuers used sheets and buckets to keep the whales wet until they could be taken back to sea.

The whales “splashed a bit” and “growled” and “squeaked” to be heard.

“We’re probably a little desensitized to last time’s deja vu,” he said.

A whale stranded on a beach with a towel over it.
There is hope that more whales can be saved.(ABC News: Lachlan Bennett)

On September 21, 2020, approximately 470 pilot whales were stranded in Macquarie Harbour.

Just over 100 whales were saved.

“We have all the equipment ready for the boats, we know exactly what we have to do.”

Rescuers help hundreds of whales on a beach.
Authorities have urged the public to stay away from the beach.(ABC News: Lachlan Bennett)

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