Major clean-up operation after mass whale stranding at Hamelin Bay near Augusta
By Elva Darnell
If left to decay the carcasses could cause environmental and safety issues. (ABC News: James Carmody)
Authorities have spent the day racing to remove the decaying carcasses of the more than 100 short-finned pilot whales which beached themselves along a usually-pristine stretch of Western Australia’s coastline.
WA Parks and Wildlife rangers and vets have been scouring the coastline and islands near Hamelin Bay, about 310 kilometres south of Perth, to make sure all the dead whales are found and removed.
If left to decay, the carcasses could become an environmental hazard, as well as a shark attractant.
Rangers are also looking for any sign that a small group of whales which returned to deeper water alive have become stranded again.
One of the group of six became stranded for a second time overnight and had to be euthanased.
Perth man Luke Henry went down to the beach this morning, only to be confronted by the sight of carcasses being loaded onto trucks.
“I just feel awful, I don’t feel good standing here watching it,” he said.
“It’s not pleasant to see.”
The carcasses will be disposed of in landfill.
Authorities say not a lot is known about the short-finned pilot whales. (ABC News: James Carmody)
DNA taken for database
Parks and Wildlife officers have taken biological specimens from the dead and surviving whales in an effort to learn more about the elusive species.
Spokesman Ben Tannock said the samples would be used to help build a database on the animals.
“It all adds to the profile for future strandings and understanding of the species,” he said.
Shallow waters tricky for deep water whales
Joshua Smith from Murdoch University’s Cetacean Research Unit said comparatively little was known about pilot whales because the animals spent most of their time in deep water.
“There’s an aspect of this whole stranding problem that we might not be getting at simply because of the social behaviour side of things,” Dr Smith said.
He said the natural features of Hamelin Bay may also have played a role in the strandings.
“Pilot whales [are] typically an offshore species that is diving in water of several hundred meters, so they’re not as familiar with shallow environments, and that can potentially get them into trouble,” he said.
On the same day of yesterday’s stranding in 2009 more than 80 pilot whales and dolphins died in a mass stranding at the same location.
More than 20 whales were also stranded near the south-west town of Bunbury in 2015.