Saving whales beached near Strahan helping rescuers through an emotionally taxing effort

Wildlife experts have spent days returning stranded whales to deeper waters off Tasmania’s west coast.

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.

A man is in a supermarket.
Patrick Botha saw the whales first hand on a walk with his wife.(delivered)

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.

A whale being transported on the back of a ute.
The surviving animals were taken to deeper waters.(ABC News: Lachlan Bennett)

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.

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