November 30, 2008

150 Whales Die In Australia

Australian authorities reported on Sunday that at least 150 whales have died after being stranded on Tasmania's west coast.

The long-finned pilot whales were discovered on Saturday, badly injured by jagged rocks. The body count was affirmed on Sunday to be 150, double the original estimate of 80 on Saturday.

An official said that rescuers did managed to save 30 whales, which were trapped in shallow reefs, by using a small safety boat to steer them to deeper water.

Whales pass Tasmania as they migrate to and from Antarctic waters and stranding is not uncommon.

Last week, 11 long-finned pilot whales were rescued after more than 60 became stranded off another part of the island.

Local residents and experts worked to help this group of whales back to the water, but most had also been injured by rocks and reefs.

One stranded whale was moved by officials that was calling to a group offshore, in an attempt to prevent further deaths.

"Unfortunately, that whale died but what happened then was those 30 whales milling around seemed more willing to move on and with a boat in the water we managed to shepherd them out of the bay," Warwick Brennan, a spokesman for the department of primary industries and water, told AAP news agency.

Mass stranding of whales occur periodically in Australia and New Zealand.  The reasons are not entirely understood, but theories include disturbance of echo-location, possibly interference from sound produced by human activities at sea.

Pilot whales are among the smaller whales, typically 16 Ft. in length, and are dark with a grey underbelly.