In Australia, a Massive Whale Tragedy Worsens

All 97 whales from beached pod are dead
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2023 12:22 PM CDT
Updated Jul 27, 2023 9:23 AM CDT
97 Pilot Whales Gathered Tightly, Then Beached
Whales stranded on Cheynes Beach east of Albany, Australia, Tuesday, July 25, 2023. Nearly 100 pilot whales stranded themselves on a beach in western Australia Tuesday, and about half had died by Wednesday morning, despite the efforts of wildlife experts and volunteers to save them.   (Australian Broadcasting Corp. via AP)
UPDATE Jul 27, 2023 9:23 AM CDT

Peter Hartley, a manager at Western Australia's Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions says it was one of the hardest decisions he has made in his 34-year career. The department says 45 long-finned pilot whales, survivors of a pod of 97 that beached themselves, were euthanized Wednesday to avoid "prolonging their suffering" after efforts to lead them to deeper water failed, the AP reports. Hundreds of volunteers joined wildlife workers to get the whales back in the water but the pod re-stranded themselves, reports NPR. It's winter in Australia and two volunteers were treated for hypothermia after a storm hit the beach Wednesday.

Jul 26, 2023 12:22 PM CDT

In a maritime mystery that has marine mammal experts confounded and rescuers pulling overtime, a pod of 97 pilot whales beached in Western Australia. The pod gathered offshore of Cheynes Beach on Tuesday morning, massing closely together just offshore in behavior that the Guardian reports attracted the attention of local experts. Kate Sprogis, a marine mammal ecologist at the University of Western Australia, tells the New York Times that the behavior was "really unusual," adding that "healthy pilot whales don't generally behave like this, and when you see it, you think there's something odd going on." By Tuesday afternoon, the Guardian notes that a "large stretch of the shoreline was covered in beached whales." By Wednesday morning, about half of them, 52 whales, were dead despite all-night efforts by wildlife experts and volunteers.

Rescuers managed to push the remaining 45 whales back out into the water, per the Times, which may have been a moot point: the whales re-beached themselves Wednesday afternoon. Per the state's department of conservation: "Veterinarians will continue to assess the re-stranded whales and advise of the most appropriate course of action to ensure the most humane outcome for the whales."

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Pilot whales are highly social creatures and more prone to beachings than any other sea mammal, so if one or more animals became stressed, the entire pod might have made a decision to head for disaster, notes the Guardian. Says Griffith University whale researcher Dr. Olaf Meynecke, "The stress seems to build up. They are so closely bonded it's almost like they are stressing each other out and they are so bound together they will just go in as a bubble. It kind of makes sense given their strong emotional bonding to their peers." (More pilot whale stories.)

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