The anniversary of Australia’s largest mass pilot whale stranding has been marked by a repeat, with experts admitting they are stunned by the heartbreaking phenomenon.
On Wednesday, a group of 230 pilot whales stranded on Tasmania’s Ocean Beach, near Macquarie Harbour.
On Thursday afternoon, as a massive community-wide rescue effort continued, only 35 whales were left alive.
By Thursday evening, 32 had been lifted and pushed into deeper waters, but rescuers were unsure whether they would survive.
“We can hear them calling and communicating with each other. We know we are succeeding in these efforts, and that’s what keeps us going,” a weary rescuer told the TUSEN.
The deadly event follows the discovery of 14 dead sperm whales on Tasmania’s King Island on Monday.
The massive deaths came just a day before the second anniversary of Australia’s largest stranding on record, leaving 470 long-finned pilot whales ashore in the same harbor in September 2020.
Wildlife authorities are still in the dark about what leads the whales to their deaths.
Natural scientist Vanessa Pirotta said: TUSEN newspaper there will probably be no answers for a long time – or maybe ever.
“We know that beaching whales is a mystery; we don’t know exactly why they happen,” she said.
“But what we do know in this case is that we had another massive stranding, in the same location, at the same time of year.
“Is something ecological happening? Or is this just a coincidence?”
While authorities would likely perform necropsies (animal autopsies), there will be so much information to gather, from toxins to dietary issues, that it may be impossible to pinpoint anything that offered a clue as to why the animals were herded to Tasmanian shores. . said Dr. Pirotta.
The whales may also have mis-navigated, had problems with their social interactions, or initially followed stranded pod members to their own deaths.
After the mass stranding in 2020, then-Monash University research associate David Hocking referred to research that suggested gently sloping sandy beaches could reflect echolocation clicks away from the animal that produced them.
That could confuse whales into thinking the area is open water for them.
Strong family and social ties can then spell the demise of the entire group, as whales tend to help each other.
They are also likely to turn around after being rescued and stranded again, in a lost effort to help their pod members.
Unlike humpback whales, pilot whales don’t have a predictable migration pattern, making it difficult for researchers to track their numbers, habits, and any information that might explain why they consistently strand themselves en masse.
“In this case, strandings are a completely random event,” said Dr. Pirotta, “and we as humans don’t know why, how or when these events are likely to occur.”