Whale rescue enters day four, almost 400 dead
UPDATE, 6am. Thursday September 24:
RESCUERS will continue their efforts the free 30 remaining pilot whales stranded in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania's west coast.
Yesterday marked the deadliest day in what is believe to be Australia's large single whale stranding after a second pod of 200 whales located nearby at Betsy Bay were confirmed dead.
The last infomation available from authorities yesterday said 50 whales had been freed, 30 could hopefully be saved and around 390 have died.
More to come ...
UPDATE, 5PM, Wednesday September 23:
The race is on to save the final 30 pilot whales still stranded and alive in Strahan's Macquarie Harbour in what is now believed to be the largest stranding event and death toll in Australia's history.
Hearts sank early on Wednesday morning when another 200 of the animals were discovered stranded 10km deeper in Australia's second largest natural Harbour on Tasmania's West Coast.
All of those whales have died.
It takes the stranding tally to 470 and the death toll to 391 with 50 now saved and rescue efforts ongoing.
Aerial reconnaissance located the additional whales at Betsy's Bay.
Parks and Wildlife regional manager Nic Deka on Wednesday afternoon said the number of whales rescued was "a success".
The moment two large pilot whales are released to open seas by Petuna Aquaculture crew after being saved from Macquarie Harbour at Strahan by relentless rescuers from a range of organisations ❤️ @themercurycomau pic.twitter.com/F6HnJOeB3q— Patrick Gee (@PatrickGee16) September 23, 2020
"We have a total of 50 that have been taken off the bar and placed in deep water and appear to have stayed there," he said.
"We'll continue working to try and free as many of the remaining live animals as we can.
"There's certainly hope for them, but as time goes on they do become more fatigued and their chance of survival reduces."
Marine Conservation wildlife biologist Dr Kris Carlyon said it was "definitely" the biggest stranding event in Tasmanian history and it was believed to be the biggest in Australia.
A plan for how the whale carcasses will be retrieved and disposed of is expected to be hatched by Thursday.
Dr Carlyon said it was hard to know why the 200 whales found deeper in the harbour were all dead, while many of those found at Macquarie Heads were still alive.
Parks and Wildlife's rescue response has been criticised by some in the community asking why they had not been called in to help on day one.
"If people haven't been trained and don't have the expertise, they could easily jeopardise the health of the animals they're trying to save," Mr Deka explained.
"We take a very measured approach, we make sure we do proper assessment and we formulate a proper plan ... to get the best result possible."
UPDATE 2.30PM, Wednesday September 23:
Daryl Delaney from Ulverstone said he reported the stranding to police when he discovered the whales on the sandbar during a morning walk at Macquarie Heads at Strahan at 7.30am Monday morning.
The recreational fisherman in his mid-70s watched rescue operations unfold on Wednesday morning saying he had never seen anything like it and never wanted to again.
"I drove the car back into Strahan and reported it to police," he said.
"You don't want to see this."
Mr Delaney said rescuers were doing the best they could in circumstances that were "not ideal".
Boats from Petuna Aquaculture, Tassal and Huon Aquaculture were involved in the dire rescue efforts on Wednesday morning, towing whales through the narrow 'gates' at Macquarie Heads back to open seas.
Petuna feed manager and skipper of the company's boat 'Digger' Tom Mountney said it had been rewarding to help out over the past two days.
The 28-year-old from Devonport said the Harbour's shallow waters, moving sand banks, high winds and strong currents made navigation treacherous for boats "let alone whales".
"Macquarie Harbour is huge and the gates are only maybe 30m wide," he said.
"It's okay if we know where to go.
"It was probably the currents that were challenging yesterday [Tuesday], but are really in our favour today."
Digger towed out about 10 of the 25 whales that were rescued on Tuesday.
Mr Mountney said he expected more to be saved on Wednesday with six taken to safer depths by 11am as the operation ramped up.
"Hopefully if we keep going as we are [Digger] will get 15 or more [out]."
Mr Mountney said the currents were difficult to predict in Macquarie Harbour, but he expected weather conditions to keep improving through Thursday as rescue efforts continue.
THE death tally from a mass whale stranding on Tasmania's west coast has risen dramatically with another pod of 200 whales, mostly dead, spotted further at Macquarie Harbour at a place called Liberty Bay.
Rescuers were continuing efforts to save the 180 or so survivors from a 270-whale stranding at Macquarie Heads on Monday when aerial reconnaissance located the other pod about 10kms deeper into the Strahan harbour.
Parks and Wildlife Regional Manager Nic Deka said the new group did not appear in a condition that would warrant rescue.
That takes the total number of animals stranded to 470 - the biggest whale emergency in Tasmania's history.
"The other 200 are in a couple of bays. From the air most appear to be dead. Boats will now head out to do an assessment," Mr Deka said.
He said it appeared they stranded on the coastline and then washed back into the water.
"If they can be saved we will probably send crews over there but right now the focus is on those alive at Macquarie Heads. There are still a significant number alive."
Marine Conervation Program wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon said there were no answers to why the big group of whales came into the harbour and probably never would be.
Dr Carlyon said euthanasia was an option for those left suffering who cannot be saved but rescue efforts would continue while there was a still a chance of saving more.
Twenty five whales were slinged out to open water on Tuesday afternoon although a few returned to their pod in the harbour and became stranded again.
Another five were taken out to deep water this morning.
Mr Deka said he expected the rescue mission to move to a disposal operation within a few day. Then authorities will need to determine how best to dispose of the hundreds of whale carcasses.
UPDATE, 9AM: A second stranding of pilot whales has been found further inside the Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania's west coast.
A Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment spokeswoman told the Mercury a further 200 had been discovered further down the inlet with the majority believed to be dead.
This is in addition to 270 initially reported stranded on shallow sandbars near Macquarie Heads.
The total estimate of stranded whales now sits at roughly 470.
INITIAL: ONE of the biggest wildlife emergencies in Tasmania's history continues on the west coast as rescuers try to save the surviving whales from a mass stranding of 270 animals.
Incident controller Nic Deka from Parks and Wildlife Service said the rescue effort had been reasonably successful and 25 whales and been lifted by sling and boat and escorted through the channel and out to sea.
The animals judged to be the strongest were targeted by rescuers and the number of whales saved is expected to increase towards dark when efforts will be stood down until first light.
While about a third of the stranded animals have died the exact number will be confirmed through infra-red technology from a helicopter on Wednesday morning.
Authorities were alerted the whales' plight early Monday morning.
A regular visitor to Strahan's Macquarie Heads campground saw them stranded on two sandbars - known as Fraser Flats - as he walked past the harbour about 7.30am.
Another group of 30 pilot whales were stranded on Ocean Beach - about 2km from the larger pod - but have since died.
Campground caretaker Ian Burgess watched two whales slowly dying on Monday afternoon and says he wished he could have put them out of their misery.
"If I'd had a rifle I would have shot them. They were on their last legs and suffering the poor things," Mr Burgess said.
Marine Conservation Program wildlife biologist Dr Kris Carlyon said the distressed whales still fighting for life had a decent chance because they were in shallow water and the weather conditions were wet and cold.
Rescue crews will be rotated to stop fatigue becoming an issue. But he said there was an emotional toll on those in the water.
"It is quite confronting. There is an expectation from the public as well that we will get to help as many whales as possible," he said.
"As far as we know this was a natural event and we have to expect we will lose some animals."
Dr Carlyon said it was not known why the whales entered the shallow water of Macquarie Harbour but it was a hotspot for whale standings.
"They may have been drawn in by food or it could be a case of misadventure where one or two enter and draw the rest of the pod in," he said.
"We may never know the ultimate cause of this particular event."
While the squally conditions in Strahan on Tuesday were challenging for rescuers they were good for the stranded animals.
He said long-finned pilot whales were a robust species and could survive in the shallow water on the sandbars for several days.
Parks and Wildlife Regional Manager Nic Deka said the carcasses of the dead whales would be taken out to sea or buried.
The rescue operation is expected to run for several more days.
"The longer the event goes on the higher the chances they will perish," Mr Deka said.
The rescue attempt will stop as the sun goes down and start again at first light.
Fish farm workers from nearby salmon farms will join in the rescue effort. along with 60 Department of Primary Industry, Water, Parks and Environment staff and a handful of trained volunteers.
Five surf clubs from across northern Tasmania have also joined in the rescue effort.
Mr Deka repeated his appeal for the public to watch from a distance despite wanting to help.
"We have the resources and this is not a task for the uninitiated," he said.
Originally published as Whale rescue enters day four, almost 400 dead