WARNING — DISTRESSING CONTENT: A team of marine specialists has been called in to investigate after 14 young sperm whales were found in a mass stranding off Tasmania’s northwest coast.
The devastating discovery was made on King Island on Monday afternoon with photos revealing several whales lying on their sides in shallow, bloodied water.
“Heartbreaking images of [the] latest sperm whale standing on King Island,” one person wrote on Twitter.
“We still don’t fully understand for certain why these events occur but they are simply tragic. Such a loss of life.
“Such sad news,” said another.
Investigation launched into beaching of whales
The incident was reported to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania (NRE Tas) which sent out a group from the Marine Conservation Programme to investigate.
“It appears all 14 animals are young males and were dead at the time the stranding was reported,” NRE Tas said in a statement to Yahoo News Australia.
Wildlife biologists and a vet travelled to the island on Tuesday to conduct investigations, including a necropsy where possible, and collect valuable samples.
The team also conducted an aerial inspection to determine if there were any other whales in the area.
NRE Tas has since confirmed to Yahoo News Australia on Wednesday morning that all 14 whales are dead and that no other whales were discovered during the aerial survey.
As of late yesterday, the team from the Marine Conservation Programme was carrying out post-mortem investigations and sampling.
Authorities are asking members of the public to keep their distance from the whales while surfers and swimmers are being urged to avoid the immediate area with fears that the whale carcasses will attract sharks.
King Island stranding a mystery
While inquiries continue, it’s not yet known why the whales became stranded.
“It is not unusual for sperm whales to be sighted in Tasmania and the area the whales were stranded is within the normal range and habitat for sperm whales,” NRE Tas said in a statement to Yahoo News Australia.
“While further inquiries are yet to be carried out, it is possible the whales were part of the same bachelor pod, a group of younger male sperm whales associating together after leaving the maternal group.”
Why whales become stranded
But it is this social nature of sperm whales that may have led to their devastating end, according to Adelaide Dedden, a PhD candidate from the University of NSW who is researching long-term feeding and migration of whales.
“Because sperm whales are a social species, sometimes when one individual is either disoriented, sick or naive it leads the pod into shallow waters where they can strand,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“Extreme weather events or solar storms can also disorient and force them into unfamiliar waters, or if they're injured that could lead them into shallow waters to seek refuge.
“Naval sonar underwater is extremely loud and can also distress them, forcing them to swim into unfamiliar waters.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.