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Mass stranding of pilot whales at Toby Inlet near Dunsborough in WA sparks rescue effort

(ABC) -- More than 20 whales have died and 140 more remain in distress during a mass stranding event in WA’s south-west.
Community members have turned out to the mouth of Toby Inlet at Geographe Bay near Dunsborough, where dozens of pilot whales are in shallow water.
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’s (DBCA) Pia Courtis said 26 whales have died and about 140 more were still toiling in the water.

Up to 100 whales have stranded at a beach in WA’s south.

“They are spread over about four different pods, so they’ve kind of moved over about a 500-metre distance along the beach,” she said.
Ms Courtis said vessels in the water were trying to prevent another group of about 20 whales from coming to shore.
The department said once beached, whales usually had to be euthanised, calling it “the most humane outcome”.
Ms Courtis said the amount of people flooding to the area made it difficult for wildlife specialists to access the scene.
There is only one road in and out of the area.
“We know people want to help but we asked that people please do not attempt to rescue the animals without direction of DBCA staff,” the department said in a social media post.
“This may cause further injury, and distress to the animals and hinder a coordinated rescue effort.”
The largest mass stranding of whales in WA also occurred in Dunsborough in 1996.
It involved 320 long-finned pilot whales, with all but 20 of the animals surviving.
More than 300 whales stranded at a Dunsborough beach in 1996.
At least 90 whales died in a stranding at Cheynes Beach in Albany, 470 kilometres south of Perth, in July last year.
Geographe Marine Research chair Ian Wiese, who is at the scene, said it was evident several whales were already dead.
“The others are just thrashing around and we’ll have many deaths in the next few hours,” he told ABC Radio Perth.
Mr Wiese said he believed there were another half a dozen pilot whales stranded in a second location, on the eastern side of Toby’s Inlet.
“It’s terrible … there’s lots of theories around the world but nobody’s really been able to find a cause [for mass whale strandings],” he said.
As Mr Wiese spoke, he said more people were arriving, with the crowd numbering over 100.
“There’s definitely a lot of upset people here,” said volunteer Chris Hall.
“It’s pretty distressing,” local whale researcher Chris Burton said.
“You can hear them talking and squeaking and breathing.”
But Mr Burton said he was buoyed by people’s willingness to help, and optimistic the majority could be saved.
He said a number had already managed to swim back out to a larger pod further out to sea.
Whale documentary filmmaker Steve Tribbeck said it was a positive sign, but the situation could change.
“I’ve not seen numbers like this in a recovery so I’m really stoked with the outcome,” he said.
“It’s still early, so I’m hoping the pod remains strong and keeps swimming back out into deep water.”
The City of Busselton has sent rangers to help control traffic.
A council spokesperson acknowledged many locals were emotionally invested, but said the more people that gathered, the greater the risk to public safety would become.
They also warned people to consider avoiding swimming in the area over the next couple of days as the dead whales could attract sharks.

(Latest Update April 26, 2024)

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