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Tragedy: one of the largest marine mammal mass stranding in Tasmania

Posted by Zsofi U on
Tragedy: one of the largest marine mammal mass stranding in Tasmania

One of the largest marine mammal mass stranding in Tasmania
Approximately 360 long finned pilot whales have died in Tasmania in one of the largest marine mass stranding (470 animals in total) ever recorded, which surpassed the previous record of 320 animals stranded in Australia in 1966. It’s not 100% understood what triggered this event however it’s known that this species prone to getting stranded.

Photo credit: Bilal Rashid/Reuters

The Tasmanian rescue team managed to save 110 animals out of 470 that got stuck in the beaches of Macquarie Harbour, in Tasmania’s west coast. The Tasmanian government officials said they would continue with the rescue efforts as long as there are live animals.
"While they're still alive and in water, there's still hope for them - but as time goes on they do become more fatigued," said Nic Deka, regional manager for Tasmania's Parks and Wildlife Service.
After saving all alive pilot whales, the rescue crew’s focus shifted to removing the 360 carcasses from the beach and look for remaining survivors.
Tasmanian authorities also warned about the likelihood of some carcasses drifting back into to the beaches in the area. First “only” 280 long-finned pilot whale was discovered stuck on the sandbars 2 days later another 200 were found washed ashore.

What are the pilot whales?

The pilot whales naming can be quite misleading since they are actually large dolphin says Dr Emma Betty, of the Cetacean Ecology Research Group at Massey University in New Zealand. “All their life history and evolution makes them more related to a bottlenose dolphin than to a humpback whale.”

Betty is a leading expert regarding the long-finned pilot whales and their stranding events. Long-finned pilot whale feed below 200 meters but can dive 5 times deeper and hold their breath up to 30 minutes. Pilot whales live in pods which is led by dominant females. They use their echolocation to communicate about food source, danger or distress. 

Pods are usually led by dominant females and they can use their echolocation to communicate. They can alert the group to a food source, potential danger, or that one of them is in distress.

Why do these stranding events happen?

In Macquarie Harbour pilot whale stranding is not uncommon.

Dr Emma Betty says: “What continues to be the strongest factor is the topography that forms natural whale traps. The whales are unfamiliar with this topography and also probably how the water rushes in and out with tides.
“They have trouble with the echolocation. Because of the shallow slope they don’t get a clear picture. They’re failing to detect the proximity of the shore until it’s too late, whereas coastal species don’t have that problem.”

According to Kris Carlyon, a wildlife biologist with the Tasmanian government’s marine conservation program the pod maybe was feeding to close to the sure and they maybe became disoriented. If few of them got stranded and signed distress the others might have just followed them.

Despite of these potential explanation, the exact reasons remain unknown.

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