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The Inertia

According to news reports out of Tasmania, around 200 pilot whales are dead after 230 of them were found stranded in a remote part of the Australian state. Strangely, it happened two years to the day after Australia’s largest mass stranding event in the same place.

On Wednesday, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said that the whales were found in Macquarie Harbor. The harbor’s entrance is known as Hell’s Gate because of its shallow depth and obstacles.

After rescuers from the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service arrived on scene, they determined that around half of the pod of whales were still alive. Overnight, however, pounding surf drove that number down to only 35.

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“We’ve triaged the animals yesterday as part of the preliminary assessment and we’ve identified those animals that had best chance of survival of the approximately 230 that were stranded,” Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manager Brendon Clark told reporters. “Today’s focus will be on rescue and release operations. We’ve got approximately 35 surviving animals out on the beach … and the primary focus this morning will be on the rescue and release of those animals.”

On September 21, 2020, 470 pilot whales were found stuck on sandbars in Macquarie Harbor. That was Australia’s largest mass-stranding ever. Only 111 of those were rescued.

A local salmon fisherman named Linton Kringle who helped with the rescue efforts in 2020 told the Associated Press that this time, the rescue is more challenging.

“Last time they were actually in the harbor and it’s quite calm and we could sort of deal with them in there and we could get the boats up to them,” Kringle said. “But just on the beach, you just can’t get a boat in there — it’s too shallow, way too rough. My thoughts would be try to get them onto a vehicle if we can’t swim them out.”

Pilot whales in particular are known to strand themselves in large numbers, although the jury is out on exactly why they do it. Some researchers believe that the most recent stranding might not be a coincidence, though.

“The fact that we’ve seen similar species, the same time, in the same location, reoccurring in terms of stranding at that same spot might provide some sort of indication that there might be something environmental here,” said Vanessa Pirotta, a wildlife scientist specializing in marine mammals.

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