HOBART, Australia – Around 230 whales have washed ashore on the west coast of Tasmania, just days after 14 sperm whales were found stranded on an island off the southeast coast.
The group, which is stranded on Ocean Beach, appears to be pilot whales and at least half are believed to be still alive, Tasmania’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment said on Wednesday.
A marine conservation program team was assembling whale rescue equipment and heading to the area, the department said.
A resident told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that whales were visible near the entrance to Macquarie Harbor and described the grounding as a “massive event”.
West Coast Council chief executive David Midson urged people to stay away.
“Whales are a protected species, even once dead, and it is an offense to interfere with a carcass,” the environment ministry said.
Griffith University marine scientist Olaf Meynecke said it was unusual for sperm whales to wash up on shore. He said warmer temperatures could also alter ocean currents and shift the whale’s traditional food sources.
“They will go to different areas and look for different sources of food,” Meynecke said. “When they do that they are not in the best physical condition because they might be starving which can cause them to take more risks and maybe get closer to shore.”
Fourteen whales were discovered on Monday afternoon on King Island, part of the state of Tasmania in the Bass Strait between Melbourne and Tasmania’s north coast. The department said it was not unusual to spot sperm whales in Tasmania.
Two years ago, around 470 long-finned pilot whales were found stranded on sandbanks off the west coast of Tasmania in the largest mass stranding on record in Australia. After a week of effort, 111 of these whales were rescued, but the others died.