80 whales and dolphins beached near Perth; mass stranding is Australia's second this month
For the second time this month, Australians were racing the clock today to rescue stranded whales and dolphins. About 80 long-finned pilot whales and dolphins beached themselves at Hamelin Bay south of Perth; volunteers and government officials were able to rescue 17 long-finned pilot whales. None of the dolphins survived.
A Department of Environment and Conservation official said the rescued whales would be held in Hamelin Bay overnight and brought to nearby Flinders Bay by truck at daybreak tomorrow morning. Once there, they'll be guided back out to sea. "This method has been chosen to ensure the whales' greatest chance of survival," conservation spokesman Greg Mair explained. "Flinders Bay provides sheltered waters and is far enough away from the stranding site to reduce the risk of the whales re-stranding."
Mass whale strandings happen periodically in Australia and New Zealand, although it's unusual for whales and dolphins to become beached together. The Associated Press reports on several recent cases:
Earlier this month, 194 pilot whales and seven dolphins became stranded on a sandbar in Tasmania and only 54 whales and five dolphins were able to be saved. In January, 45 sperm whales died after becoming beached on a different Tasmanian sandbar.
Last November, 150 long-finned pilot whales died after beaching on a rocky coastline one week after a pod of 60 also came ashore on the island state. Only 11 were rescued.
Researchers are uncertain what causes the relative frequency of whale beachings in Australasia, but some suspect it may be related to a disturbance to the whales' echo-location systems.
-- Lindsay Barnett
Photo: Tony Ashby / AFP/Getty Images