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380 Whales Dead and 4 Euthanised in the Worst Stranding Event in Australian History

Tarun Jeen

16th October 2020

Barely two weeks ago, 470 Pilot Whales swam into an inland waterway of Tasmania, Australia. Scientists suspect that they were motivated by hunger and all of them moved together because these creatures have strong social structures. Unfortunately for them, the waters soon became too shallow and non-saline to swim through, and considering the sheer number and volume of the creatures, it turned into a ‘mass whale stranding event’. The worst one Australia has ever experienced.

A beached Pilot Whale at the Macquarie Harbour, west coast of Tasmania (Source: Newsweek)

Today, due to the combined efforts of over 40 government officials, 20 volunteers and 17 Surf lifesavers, and around a dozen high powered machines including cranes, a total of 88 whales have been released back into the Ocean. 88 out of 470. Now, after so much time has passed, the government has to prepare to change their course of action and shift their priorities. Because today, 380 Whales have died in Australian waterways.

“We think there are around 20 still viable (whales) to release from the sandbar,” said Nic Deka, the coordinator of the rescue from Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service. “It is a complex site, and many whales are submerged. It’s difficult to assess which are alive and dead. But we have about 20 that we think have the strength to be released.” The rest of the Whales, the ones still alive, but too weak to even conceivable survive release into the ocean will have to be euthanised. This is considered to be the kinder option by far because it can take anywhere from several days to weeks for a beached whale to die, as the stranded animal is slowly crushed to death under the weight of its own body, without the buoyancy of seawater to support itself. "Most large whales, when they come to shore, they're already dead," Craig Harms, an aquatic animal veterinarian at North Carolina State University in Morehead City, told National Geographic. "It's long, slow suffocation."

The act itself will be performed with a firearm housing customised ammunition, and it is in line with the best international standards for animals of the whales’ size, said a spokesperson for Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment in a statement. The bigger problem for the Tasmanian currently is the disposal of the 380 whale carcasses laying in shallow water. Open whale corpses pose genuine health risks ranging from destroying pre-existing natural food cycles to affecting the quantity of breathable oxygen in the surrounding area. With each whale weighing more than 1000Kg, such events also end up attracting predators like sharks into the inland waters. To avoid these terrible situations, the Australian government is utilising heavy machinery like massive container ships and multiple cranes to gather whatever carcases possible and dump them safely into the ocean.

This process is expected to take weeks, according to a report from The Guardian, and until then, forces will be divided between saving the 20 viable whales and shipping and dumping the rest with all haste. Events like these are not exceptionally rare in the southern hemisphere. Historically, the worst beaching event happened in 1918, NewZealand where approximately 1000 whales died on the Chatham Isle, just off the coast of NewZealand.

News Sources: Newsweek, The Guardian, The Mercury

Edited by: Aayush Lahoti

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