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Rescuers confident of saving second pod

The Canberra Times

30th November 2004

Rescue teams are confident of saving most surviving whales from a pod beached off Tasmania's east coast - the second mass stranding in Tasmanian waters in 24 hours.

Fifty-three long-finned pilot whales ran ashore at Darlington Bay on Maria Island yesterday morning.

Parks and Wildlife Service district manager Shane Hunniford said 18 of the whales had died, but 22 had been carried back to the water and every effort was being made to save the 13 which were still alive onshore.

The rescued whales, which included a mother and her calf, were waiting just offshore, he said.

Fire-fighting water pumps were being used to help keep the beached whales alive and crews would stay through the night to keep the animals cool and wet.

"As I'm looking out to sea now I can see seven people holding rescued whales and beyond that there's a police launch out there and there's a mother and calf out there, so we've had a good success rate, we're pretty happy.

"In terms of degrees of health, some are good, some are not so good.  If things keep going the way they're going now we're doing all right."

Police, parks and wildlife officers and volunteers were also working to shepherd a pod of dolphins away from the scene.

"The other concern we've got is that we've got a pod of dolphins out in the bay itself and we're a little bit anxious that they might try and get ashore as well."

The stranding was the second in Tasmanian waters in just 24 hours - a mass beaching of whales and dolphins on King Island in Bass Strait on Sunday resulted in the deaths of 98 animals.

Hopes for the survival of an offshore pod of 17 whales were dashed yesterday with the discovery that all had died.

Speaking from the remote Bass Strait Island, Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry, Water and Environment spokesman Warwick Brennan said wildlife officers confirmed yesterday that the whales were dead.  The mixed group of long- finned pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins beached on the remote Sea Elephant Beach, north of Naracoopa.  The final death toll was 73 whales and 25 dolphins and there were no further survivors in the area.

King Island ranger Nigel Burgess said the scene of the mass stranding was bleak.  "They're all dead and they're starting to wash out on the tide and wind.  It's not particularly bright.”  Wildlife officers had taken tissue samples from the carcasses for further analysis.

More than three quarters of Australia's whale strandings occur in Tasmania.

The most common species to come ashore are the common dolphin, the sperm whale, the long- finned pilot whale and the bottlenose dolphin.

Professor Hindell carried out research which found a 10 to 12-year cycle of strandings which would peak this summer.  While the frequency of strandings followed a somewhat predicable pattern, the causes were unknown.