Hundreds of whales wash ashore in Australia's 'largest ever mass stranding'

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Hundreds of whales wash ashore in Australia's 'largest ever mass stranding'

Almost 400 whales have died in what is understood to be Australia’s largest stranding on record, officials say.

Since Monday, hundreds of long-finned pilot whales have been found beached on Tasmania’s west coast.

Rescuers had managed to save 50 by this morning and were trying to help the remaining estimated 30 whales.

Tasmanian government officials said the rescue effort would continue “as long as there are live animals”.

“While they’re still alive and in water, there’s still hope for them – but as time goes on they do become more fatigued,” said Nic Deka, regional manager for Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service.

He added the focus would now also shift to removing the hundreds of carcasses scattered along the coast.

A clean-up plan is still being worked out – in the past carcasses have been buried on the shore or dragged out to open sea.

It is not fully understood why the whales became stranded. The species is known to be prone to getting beached.

The stranding, one of the largest ever recorded globally, eclipses a previous national record of 320 set in Western Australia in 1996.

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Dr Karen Stockin, an associate professor at Massey University in New Zealand, is an expert on whale and dolphin strandings globally and is on an International Whaling Commission expert panel on the issue.

She said the Macquarie Harbour stranding was likely Australia’s largest ever.

“It’s fair to say this will probably rank third or fourth globally [in terms of the numbers of stranded animals].”

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Long-finned pilot whales, which can live for up to 40 years, were notorious for large strandings, Stockin said, because of the way they stick together in tight social structures.

“Some will remain within their pods their entire lifetime,” she said.

Australia’s environment minister Sussan Ley said: “It is heartbreaking to see these stranded whales in Tassie. I want to thank the hard working rescuers and all the amazing volunteers on the ground.”

She said the Tasmanian government was leading the rescue, but the government had also offered support.

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It comes after waterholes across Botswana will now be monitored in the rainy season to prevent another deadly algae outbreak that was found to have killed hundreds of elephants.

Wildlife officials in the country, home to the largest population of elephants in the world, believe a toxin produced in algae blooms in drinking holes was the cause of the mysterious deaths in May and June.

They plan to monitor algae levels, which are increasing in severity and prevalence, from the start of the rainy season in November.

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