January 23, 2009

Whale Pod Stuck On Sandbar In Tasmania

Wildlife officials said that more than 40 sperm whales have died after a pod of about 50 became stranded off southern Australia. 

Rescuers have been trying to keep the surviving whales alive by pouring water over them.

The whales are trapped on a sandbar about 500 feet offshore from Perkins Island on the northwest coast of Tasmania.

Because of the whales' immense size, and that the area is only accessible by sea, the rescue is proving to be a difficult one.

Liz Wren, a spokeswoman for Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Services, told reporters that rescuers estimated that seven or eight whales might still be alive, even though reports suggest that only two have survived.

"The males are as big as 18 m, females 12 m, weighing in between 20 and 50 tons," she said.

While rescuers have been able to save some long-finned pilot whales after another stranding in November, she said, "sperm whales are an entirely different kettle of fish and much more difficult."

"And it's much harder on them when they strand because the great weight of their bodies puts more pressure on their internal organs," she said.

Another reason that this is a difficult rescue is because of the location.  The pod is stuck on the edge of a major navigation channel for a fishing port.

A team of wildlife rangers reached the surviving whales by early Friday, and were attempting to keep their skin wet until high tide.

More than 150 long-finned pilot whales died in November, with many sustaining deep cuts after hitting rocks and then beaching themselves on the west coast of Tasmania.

About 80% of the whale beachings in Australia are in Tasmania.

There is no clear reason for why this is the case, but Wren said rough sea conditions and the narrow channel that the pod have been navigating between could be part of the explanation.

Other theories are disturbances of echo-locations, possibly by interference from sound produced by human activities at sea.


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