Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Few survivors from mass whale stranding in Australia

More than 40 sperm whales have died after a pod of about 50 became stranded off southern Australia, an official said Friday as rescuers struggled to save the survivors.By the time the pod, which is trapped on a sandbar 150 metres (500 feet) offshore from Perkins Island on the northwest coast of the island state of Tasmania, was discovered late Thursday most had perished.Only five were still alive by Friday afternoon.Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Services spokeswoman Liz Wren told AFP rescue options would be difficult because of the massive size of the animals and the fact that the pod was accessible only by water."The males are as big as 18 metres, females 12 metres, weighing in between 20 and 50 tonnes," she said.She said while rescuers had been able to save some long-finned pilot whales after another mass stranding on a Tasmanian beach in November "sperm whales are an entirely different kettle of fish and much more difficult.""And it's much harder on them when they strand because the great weight of their bodies puts more pressure on their internal organs," she said.Rescuers, who spent the day trying to prevent the giant animals from overheating, will attempt to move the surviving whales at high tide on Saturday morning."This will be one of the most challenging rescues ever attempted, they are packed pretty tightly together, this will be as difficult as they get," Wren told national news agency AAP.Authorities are also assessing how to remove the carcasses of the dead whales, which could pose a problem because they are stuck on the edge of a major navigation channel for a fishing port.More than 150 long-finned pilot whales died, with many sustaining deep cuts after thrashing onto rocks, after beaching themselves on the remote west coast of Tasmania state in November.Australia's southern island of Tasmania experiences about 80 percent of whale beachings in the country, a phenomenon so far unexplained by science.

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