At least 140 whales have died after becoming stranded on a beach overnight in Western Australia, the AP reports. Over 150 short-finned pilot whales were first spotted on the beach at Hamelin Bay by a fisherman on Friday morning. By Friday afternoon, all but 15 had died. According to the New York Times, the number of survivors decreased to seven by Friday night. "I've never seen anything like it, seen so many whales beached like this," one tourist tells the AP. Over 100 volunteers, wildlife personnel, and others showed up to help, but their efforts to rescue the whales were hampered by bad weather and the danger of sharks showing up to feast on the carcasses. "The conditions are challenging, but we are doing all we can to give these animals the best chance of survival," a member of the Parks and Wildlife Service tells the Times.
Parks and Wildlife Service officers are taking DNA samples as they remove the whale carcasses in an attempt to figure out why they were stranded. Short-finned pilot whales are prone to what scientists call "mass strandings," though it's unclear why. Possible reasons include human activity, problems navigating, and illness. While whales regularly get stranded on Hamelin Beach as they migrate north from the Antarctic waters where they feed, such mass strandings are unusual, Reuters reports. A manager at Hamelin Bay Holiday Park says this is only the second mass stranding she's seen at Hamelin Bay in 15 years. In 2009, over 80 whales and dolphins died after beaching themselves in the area.