Rescuers racing against the clock to save hundreds of whales stranded on Tasmania’s remote west coast have delivered the devastating blow that almost 200 of them have died.
Just 35 are left fighting for life.
The group was first spotted on Ocean Beach, near the entrance to Macquarie Harbour, south of Strahan, on Wednesday.
"Horrific scenes on Tasmania's West Coast," ABC journalist Lachlan Bennett tweeted.
"Hundreds of whales stranded, authorities trying to save those still kicking"
A rescue mission was launched in a desperate attempt to save the mammals, believed to be pilot whales, while teams worked to keep them wet.
But by yesterday afternoon, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment confirmed that at least half of the whales had died.
On Thursday morning it was confirmed that 195 of them hadn’t made it.
“We positioned them overnight, again so that we could assess them this morning, and those ones that have survived, which we’ve got approximately 35 surviving animals out on the beach, the primary focus this morning will be on the rescue and release of those animals,” incident controller Brendan Clarke said.
“Unfortunately we do have a high mortality rate out of this particular stranding.”
Mr Clarke added that the exposed conditions on Ocean Beach contributed to the high death rate.
History repeating itself
The devastating incident comes exactly two years to the day since the last mass stranding which occurred in almost the exact same area.
On September 21, 2020, about 470 pilot whales were found washed up in Macquarie Harbour in what is Australia’s worst mass whale stranding in recorded history.
Of those that beached themselves, just over 100 were able to saved.
Tragically, Wednesday’s whale standing is Tasmania’s second this week.
On Monday more than a dozen sperm whales were discovered in bloodied shallow waters off King Island, less than 300 kilometres from Macquarie Harbour.
Tragically all 14 of them died.
More research needed to understand why whales strand
While it’s not know why this group of pilot whales became stranded, even less is understood about why it occurred on the same date and in the same location as the 2020 standing.
“Pilot whales are highly social marine mammals and they're said to strand in large groups because they travel in these large, close-knit pods which rely on constant communication with each other,” Adelaide Deddan, a PhD candidate researching the migration of whales at the University of NSW told Yahoo News Australia.
“This group could have been following a sick, disoriented or confused individual and that individual could have led the group into unfamiliar shallow waters where they stranded.”
She went on to suggest why the whales may have beached in the same area.
“Researchers found that coastal topography may play a part in the location of stranding sites, where these gently sloping sandy beaches appear to be acoustic “dead zones” which may confuse the whales’ sonar making them think that they're actually in the open ocean.
“The fact that it's the same species, same location and same time of year is concerning and I think more research is necessary to understand these tragic events and why they occur.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.