MELBOURNE • All but six of more than 150 short-finned pilot whales that stranded themselves on a beach in Western Australia have died, despite efforts by the local authorities and beachgoers to save them, officials said yesterday.
The marine mammals stranded themselves in Hamelin Bay, 315km south of the state's capital, Perth, between Thursday and Friday.
Officials, veterinarians and beach visitors tried to save 15 of the migrating cetaceans in shallow waters. But only seven were able to successfully be placed back in the water.
A spokesman from Western Australia's Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions said one whale beached itself again and had to be euthanised.
So far, the remaining six whales appear to have survived although an incident controller said they could try to beach themselves at another location.
Pilot whales, which are part of the dolphin family, weigh between one and four tonnes each, providing a logistical challenge to workers disposing of the carcasses.
While whales regularly get stranded on the coastal strip migrating between Antarctic feeding grounds in the south and warmer northern waters where they raise their young, the large number this time is unusual.
There was a mass stranding in 1996, when 320 long-finned pilot whales beached themselves just north of Hamelin Bay and died.
People have been warned to stay out of the water due to a likely increase in sharks attracted by the dead whales. The beach has been temporarily closed.
Short-finned pilot whales are dark-coloured with pinkish-grey undersides, travel in large numbers and often get stranded en masse, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development said.