Rescue operation to save 180 of the 275 whales stranded in Australia

The authorities of the oceanic country have started a rescue device for cetaceans on the island of Tasmania

Some 90 pilot whales (also known as pilot whales) have died and another 180 remain stranded in a Tasman Bay , in southern Australia, announced the authorities, who have launched a difficult rescue operation .

The scientists said that two groups of this species of toothed cetacean from the dolphin family ran aground on sandbars in Macquarie Harbor , a bay closed by a narrow passage on Tasmania's wild and sparsely populated west coast.

In the videos, mammals are seen struggling to escape these shallow waters. The lifeguards' boats and semi-rigid boats sail around to try to help them out. In some photographs, lifeguards in wetsuits are seen standing, submerged in water up to their waists, a few meters from the stranded cetaceans.

Kris Carlyon , a government-employed biologist, said that about “a third” of the animals died Monday night, and that saving live pilot whales constitutes a “challenge” that could take days, mostly because getting closer to them you have to use a boat.

Stranded marine mammals are relatively prevalent in Tasmania, but this is of concern because of the number of animals affected .

Some 60 people, including employees of nearby aquaculture farms, are taking part in this rescue operation, which is very complicated by the cold, humidity and an irregular tidal regime .

Carlyon said that most pilot whales, which are partially underwater, should be able to survive for several days and that this climate, unpleasant for humans, works in favor of these marine mammals.

“The weather is bad for people, but for cetaceans it is ideal, because of the humidity and the coolness,” he told reporters in the nearby town of Strahan, in the north of the bay.

Rescuers will need to select the animals they save and focus on those that are most accessible and those that appear healthier.

Most of the cetaceans in a group of about 30 stranded on a beach died Monday . And it is estimated that around 60 have died stranded on sandbars since then.

Race against the clock

When these cetaceans (very social animals) come to the surface, the other challenge will be helping them avoid the sandbars of Macquarie Harbor and reach the high seas.

Scientists cannot explain why so many animals are stranded. The group may have gotten lost by getting too close to shore to hunt, or it may have followed one or two cetaceans that ran aground.

Karen Stockin , a marine mammal specialist at Massey University in New Zealand, says Tasmania is a frequent place for stranded pilot whales, a species that is not considered threatened.

“It appears to be a known whale trap. There are frequent strandings in this sector,” he said.

Although pilot whales are considered hardy cetaceans, lifeguards are racing against the clock, he added. Among the risks for mammals it stands out that they cannot cool their body , that their muscles deteriorate or that some of their organs are crushed by prolonged contact with the bottom.

Their social nature can also be detrimental, as some released animals may try to stay with the group and run aground again.

Time is not a favorable element either. “The faster the rescue operation, the better the chances of survival,” he concludes.

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