New mass stranding of pilot whales in Tasmania

Over two hundred pilot whales washed up off the west coast of Tasmania on Wednesday 21st September. Two years ago to this day, another group was also stranded near the same beach. For now, the reasons for this event remain unknown.

On September 21, 2020, several dozen pilot whales died on a beach in western Tasmania. This previous stranding involved about 470 pilot whales long-finned (Globicephala melas, a large species of dolphin). Rescue teams were able to release around 111 of these animals into deep water.

This year, history repeats itself with no less than 230 mammals stranded in the region, in Ocean Beach. According to Rob Deaville, project manager for the Cetacean Stranding Inspection Program (CSIP) at the Zoological Society of London, it’s probably just what a coincidence. In fact, many factors can cause marine mammals to become stranded and historically, Australia is sadly the scene of many of these events.

Only thirty-two of these animals found stranded in nearby Macquarie Harbour, on a sandy plateau, they were eventually able to reach the sea. Everyone else, about two hundred pilot whales, they are already dead. Analysis of several carcasses by the Tasmanian Department of Natural Resources and Environment could help to learn more about the circumstances of this event.

Ocean Beach remains closed to the public while the response team examines the Whales deceased and prepares the bodies for disposal. Those that are not dissected will be taken out to sea to be deposited in deep waters.

pilot whale dolphin
Two cauldrons. Credit: Far Out Ocean Research Collective

some clues

If the reasons for this stranding have yet to be determined, biologists have some ideas. We know for example that the most social species run aground most frequently. And pilot whales, also called “pilot whales” because they follow each other online, are known to form very strong social bonds. Unfortunately, sometimes a sick or injured party member ends up stranded, before the others do the same.

We also know that whale and dolphin echolocation performs worse in shallow water. By venturing too close to shore (for example, to hunt), these animals may find themselves caught in the event of a falling tide.

Finally, post-mortem examinations could also reveal whether these mammals were sick, injured, or exposed to some type of toxin before reaching land.

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