A shocking video showed that hundreds of whales had washed up on the shores of Australia on Tuesday—the country's second mass stranding of the animals in two days. Rescuers rushed to the remote area in western Tasmania. Read on to find out how locals coped in the meantime and some possible explanations for the strange phenomenon.
More Than 230 Whales Stranded
The London Times reported that more than 230 whales had become stranded on King Island in Bass Strait in Tasmania, and at least 14 male sperm whales had died. Video from the scene showed locals trying to cover some of the beached whales with wet blankets and pouring buckets of water over them. On Wednesday, it was believed that more than half of the whales were still alive. But on Thursday morning, the Associated Press reported that all but 35 of the whales had died despite rescue efforts. Keep reading to learn more and see the video.
Rescuers Say They're En Route
"We've triaged the animals yesterday as part of the preliminary assessment and we've identified those animals that had best chance of survival of the approximately 230 that stranded. Today's focus will be on rescue and release operations," Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manager Brendon Clark told the AP. "We've got approximately 35 surviving animals out on the beach … and the primary focus this morning will be on the rescue and release of those animals," Clark added.
What Caused This?
It's not clear why the whales became stranded on the beach, the Times reported, noting that the area is a hotspot. Kris Carlyon, a Tasmanian wildlife biologist, said that the island's "quite complex" coastal topography "can often act as a bit of a whale trap." It's the site of the country's worst mass whale stranding, which happened exactly two years previously—Sept. 21, 2020. Then, 470 pilot whales washed up on the sand and fewer than a quarter of them survived.
"We Simply Do Not Know Why This Happens"
Scientists don't understand what causes mass strandings. Some theories: Whales may swim too close to the shore when hunting for food; or a leading whale might become lost or frightened and swim off course. "We simply do not know why this happens," wildlife scientist Dr. Vanessa Pirotta told the Times. "But the key thing here is that any stranding can contribute to science. Now authorities will undertake a necropsy, which is an animal autopsy, to try to understand what these animals might have been up to but also to learn more about them."
Repeat Nature of Stranding Might Give Clues
Pirotta, who specializes in marine mammals, told the AP that it was premature to give a cause for the mass stranding, but the fact that it was a repeat incident might give scientists some clues. "The fact that we've seen similar species, the same time, in the same location, reoccurring in terms of stranding at that same spot might provide some sort of indication that there might be something environmental here," she said.