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Mass stranding: 155 whales dead in Tasmania

AFP

Wildlife

stranded whales in Tasmania

The scene of a mass whale stranding near Sandy Cape on the remote west coast of Australia's Tasmania state.

Credit: AFP

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SYDNEY: One hundred and fifty-five whales have died after becoming stranded on rocks in Australia, one week after 53 of the marine mammals died nearby in a similar beaching.

The long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) are believed to have beached themselves at the rocky and remote Sandy Cape on the west coast of the southern island of Tasmania on Saturday.

Early aerial reports suggested that only 72 had died, but subsequent investigations revealed that many more had perished, Warwick Brennan from the state's Department of Primary Industries and Water said on Monday.

Spate of beachings

He added that rescuers had shepherded 32 more whales, which had been trapped in a channel offshore among reefs, to safety using a small boat and these animals were now swimming strongly.

Tasmanian officials were alerted to the beaching early Saturday and a helicopter inspection of the remote area showed that 12 were still alive, despite being badly cut by the rocks.

A rescue team reached the area Sunday but found only two of the pilot whales, which can reach up to more than seven metres in length and weigh up to three tonnes, alive.

"There were two alive in the rocky shore, but they died earlier this afternoon," said Chris Arthur of Tasmania's Parks and Wildlife Service.

Rescuers had been afraid that the whales would not survive the night as they would have thrashed heavily on the rocks, unlike the 64 animals which beached on a sandy Tasmanian beach the previous week.

Blood loss

Eleven of those animals were saved after they were transported to another beach and dragged into deep water.

"On sand they tend to lie fairly quietly but when they land on rocks and in amongst boulders they thrash, they cut themselves. There's a lot of blood loss," the parks and wildlife service's Rosemary Gales told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Saturday.

"We know from previous experience that when pilot whales strand on rocks, which these ones have, they die very quickly," she said.

Since 1900 there have been 75 whale strandings recorded in Tasmania, which accounts for 80 per cent of such events in Australia, with several involving more than 200 animals, Brennan said.

Military sonar is fingered by some as a major culprit, but here is still debate among scientists over what causes the animals to beach themselves.