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Predator theory in whales stranding

The Courier-Mail

26th November 2003

A STINKING shame ...
Kathryn Medlock from the Tasmanian Museum and conservationist
Michael Greenwood with dead dolphins and pilot whales on Tasmania's
west coast. Picture: Tony Palmer.

A PREDATOR may have driven more than 100 pilot whales and dolphins to their deaths in an unusual mass stranding on Tasmania's remote west coast, experts said yesterday.

A team of five scientists was taken by helicopter into a rocky, shallow bay opposite Hibbs Pyramid, about 50km south of Strahan, to examine the decomposing carcasses of 110 long-finned pilot whales and 20 bottle-nosed dolphins.

Included were adult males and females, some with aborted foetuses.

Nature Conservation Branch marine biologist Aleks Terauds said another five whales were found floating in the water.

"They had been dead for at least a week, perhaps 10 days," he said after returning to Hobart late

"If we had managed to get there earlier, we probably could have saved a few of them. It was a pretty sobering experience."

The mass stranding was spotted by an abalone diver operating in the area yesterday.

Environment Minister Bryan Green told State Parliament weather conditions had prevented the diver from putting ashore to make a closer inspection.

"This type of event is always a cause for some sadness that such a large group of mammals should end up like this," Mr Green said.

The Opposition yesterday urged the Government to protect the whales from poachers.

"Unfortunately, there seems to be an element in our society that will try to profit from a tragedy like this," Opposition environment spokesman Jeremy Rockliff said.

"Just last week, when a dozen sperm whales beached on the North Island of New Zealand's west coast, one of the animals was butchered for its jawbone despite a 24-hour security operation."

Finned pilot whales and dolphins stranded on the beach at
Hibbs Bay south of Strahan on Tasmania's west coast

Additional information

Scientists look for answers in whale stranding
Scientists hope a mass stranding of 110 pilot whales
on Tasmania's west coast will allow them to learn more
about the animals. The long-finned pilot whales and 20
bottlenose dolphins were found dead on a remote beach
south of Strahan. Scientists from the Department of
Primary Industries estimate the animals beached themselves
about 10 days ago.

Rosemary Gales from the Nature Conservation Branch
says it is likely the group was either pursuing prey close
to the shore or fleeing predators such as killer whales.

Picture: Roger Lovell
(Photo Source - The Age)

Dr Gales says knowledge about pilot whales is limited and she hopes DNA and pollutant load tests will reveal more about the species.

"At least now it provides a little bit of a window
to try to understand more about the lives of these
animals," she said.

Scientists also hope to establish whether there is any
connection with a mass stranding of pilot whales in
New Zealand last week.

Mass stranding ... 110 pilot whales found
dead on Tasmanian west coast. (ABC TV)