By Amy B Wang
23 March 2018

(The Washington Post) – More than 150 short-finned pilot whales stranded themselves Thursday on the southwestern tip of Australia, stunning parks officials and prompting a massive rescue effort to save as many as possible.

The mass beaching likely took place sometime Wednesday night to early Thursday morning, local time, at Hamelin Bay, Western Australia, according to the state's parks and wildlife service. Videos of the scene showed dozens of the animals piled against each other on the shore, many with their tails still wiggling, as onlookers expressed concern. Some whales were fully on dry land, while others were in shallow waters.

It's unclear exactly when the distressed animals were discovered — but by 9:30 a.m., about 75 of the whales had died, the parks service said. Officials soon shut the beach down, issued a shark alert for the area and rushed equipment and trained volunteers to the site to try to return the pilot whales to deeper water.

“The strength of the animals and the windy and possibly wet weather conditions will affect when and where we attempt to move them out to sea,” Jeremy Chick, incident controller for the parks and wildlife service, said at the time. “The main objectives are to ensure the safety of staff and volunteers as well as the whales' greatest chance of survival.”

Despite their efforts, by noon, dozens more had died, leaving only 15 of the stranded whales alive. By 4 p.m., that number had dwindled to seven surviving whales.

‏150 short-finned pilot whales stranded at Hamelin Bay, Australia, 23 March 2018. Parks and Wildlife Service staff with veterinary assistance and support of Sea Search and Rescue trained volunteers worked to ensure the welfare of the 6 surviving whales. Photo: Australia Parks and Wildlife

The rocky beach terrain and rough seas — as well as the now dozens of dead whales surrounding the live ones — were hampering rescue efforts most, officials said then.

“The conditions are challenging but we are doing all we can to give these animals the best chance of survival without risking the safety of staff and volunteers,” Chick said, noting they would try to use boats to move the surviving animals to deeper water.

“Once we have moved the whales out we will monitor the situation closely as it is possible the whales will come back into shore and re-strand,” he said. “This has often been the case in previous mass strandings.”

At 7 p.m., the parks and wildlife service announced that all of the surviving pilot whales — six at final count — had at last been returned to deeper water. A photo of the scene showed a startling line of dark whale carcasses dividing the otherwise pristine beach and clear water. [more]

Nearly 150 beached whales die after mass stranding in Australia

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