A mass stranding of whales in Western Australia

Image: Parks and Wildlife WA

More than 150 short-finned pilot whales have stranded en masse at Hamelin Bay, 10km north of Augusta, in Western Australia.

About 75 of the whales died after beaching themselves.

WA Parks and Wildlife Service staff say there are about another 50 on the beach and 25 in the shallows.

Incident controller Jeremy Chick says the main priority is to ensure the welfare of the remaining live whales.

“The strength of the animals and the windy and possibly wet weather conditions will affect when and where we attempt to move them out to sea,” he says.

“The main objectives are to ensure the safety of staff and volunteers as well as the whales’ greatest chance of survival.”

A hazard from whale standings is the possibility of increased shark activity.

Culum Brown, an Associate Professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University, says dead whales will certainly attract all kinds of predators and scavengers, including sharks.

“While sharks do not normally target humans, in this context with plenty of food on offer it is likely that anyone in the water will be accidently bitten,” he says.

“In general, it is advisable to stay out of the water in contexts where sharks are likely to be feeding: near dead animals, dawn and dusk, near rivers after rainfall and near seal colonies.”

The largest mass stranding of whales in Western Australia was in 1996 when 320 long-finned pilot whales stranded at Dunsborough.

Short-finned pilot whales are closely related to long-finned pilot whales, although they have shorter flippers with less of an elbow. Females are about four metres long and males 5.5 metres.

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