Wildlife experts have spent days returning stranded whales to deeper waters off Tasmania’s west coast.
- On Thursday, rescuers said 32 of the 35 surviving animals had been moved to deeper waters
- The 2020 stranding demonstrated the emotional toll such a rescue operation can take
- This time the rescue team has a health and wellbeing officer
On Wednesday, 230 pilot whales were spotted stranded near Strahan. Yesterday, rescuers said 32 of the 35 surviving animals had been moved to deeper waters.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done and the memory of the last mass stranding at the same spot exactly two years ago is all too fresh.
Patrick Botha, who lives in Strahan, saw the whales first hand while walking with his wife early Wednesday morning.
He reached out via a workgroup chat to ensure Parks and Wildlife was aware of the confronting scene, despite low reception in the area.
He said his first thought upon spotting the stranded animals was “not again.”
“It was challenging, especially when we’ve been through it before, just over two years ago. And we’ve only just recovered,” he said.
“In the last year the beaches have returned to normal and you are looking forward to a good summer in Strahan and it is happening again. It’s devastating to tourism and of course wildlife.
“Nothing is more depressing than seeing something alive, you know, dying when there’s nothing you can do about it.”
He said initially he and his wife only sighted one whale when they were only about 2 km down the beach. The further down the beach they went, the more they saw.
Success driving motivation
Sam Thalmann, a marine biologist with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE), has been involved with rescue efforts at Macquarie Harbor this week and throughout 2020.
That week, they helped eject the animals from the shallow water, with the rescue team working to ensure the whales are kept cool, assessing skin damage, checking temperatures and airways.
Mr Thalmann said it was emotionally draining work, but knowing that even a few whales would be saved through the team’s efforts kept everyone persevering.
“Pilot whales are very sentient beings,” he said.
“We can often hear them calling and communicating with each other.
“It’s worth getting a few, or as many as possible, back out to sea so they can reconnect with wild long-finned pilot whales.”
Brad Martin, a dive manager at Huon Aquaculture, shared Mr. Thalmann’s opinion.
“It’s just nice to see everyone coming together,” he said.
“It’s just nice to see that west coast spirit and Tasmanian spirit. Everyone just jumps in and gets their hands dirty and gets involved.”
Well-being at the forefront of rescue efforts
The NRE’s Incident Controller Brendon Clark said the 2020 stranding demonstrated the emotional toll a bailout could take.
He said this time a health and wellbeing officer has been put in place to act as the “main caregiver” and monitor of those involved.
“We also have our employee assistance program, other processes and systems within NRE Tasmania that provide traditional and mental health and wellbeing to our employees,” said Mr. Clark.
He said there would also be debriefings after the event to ensure any lessons that might be learned from these experiences were noted.
“We will receive all information from our staff and others involved so that we can provide the best possible post-event care and learning from them so that we can implement best practices for the next follow-up event.”