Half the whales are already dead as rescuers battle to save the remaining mammals. (Supplied: Leaarne Hollowood)
Up to 150 whales have become stranded at Hamelin Bay, 315 kilometres south of Perth, sparking a shark advice alert for the area as a major rescue operation gets underway.
The whales have washed up about one kilometre north of the boat ramp at the beach near the town of Augusta, according to the Department of Fisheries.
About half of the mammals are dead, and a small number are swimming near the shore.
They are believed to be pilot whales.
Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions visitor service coordinator Ben Tonnock said people were being asked to keep well clear of the animals.
“Of that stranding, approximately half, or 75, at this point in time are deceased and of the remaining 75, 50 are beached, and there’s about 15 or 20 swimming,” he said.
An incident management team was on site.
“We’re obviously managing the animals and the palliative care of those animals, and the rescue of the animals that are still alive, if possible,” he said.
One of about 150 pilot whales that have beached themselves at Hamelin Bay near Augusta. (Supplied: Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions)
Outpouring of public interest
Mr Tonnock said while their efforts were focused on the whales, it was also a big job to manage the public who had gathered at the scene.
It is estimated up to 150 whales have stranded themselves at Hamelin Bay, near Augusta. (Supplied: Leaarne Hollowood)
“Obviously in these certain incidents there’s high requirement to manage the public interaction as well,” he said.
“It becomes quite an emotive issue and the public will themselves want to get involved.
“It is certainly terrific to have them on site, but they need to work under the guidance of Parks and Wildlife Services staff and make sure the incident is controlled and managed properly.”
The whales beached themselves about 300 kilometres south of Perth. (Supplied: Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions)
The sighting was reported by a fisherman at 6.00am on Friday and a shark alert was issued by the Fisheries Department.
“It is possible the dead and dying animals will act as an attractant, which could lead to sharks coming close in to shore along this stretch of coast,” the alert said
“While it’s not uncommon for sharks to be present off the Western Australian coast throughout the year, people should exercise additional caution until the stranding incident is resolved.”
Surf Life Saving WA have tweeted a report that a three metre shark of unknown species has already been spotted in the area.
Scene of previous strandings
In 2009 more than 80 pilot whales and dolphins died in a mass stranding at Hamelin Bay. More than 20 whales were also stranded in the South West town of Bunbury in 2015.
“The South West capes area has had a number of incidents over the years of stranding of short fin and long fin pilot whales, so they’re a species that are common in terms of a stranding scenario,” Mr Tonnock said.
Fisherman Graham Pateman came across the whales this morning.
“As we’ve left the anchorage we’ve seen four or five whales, I believe there’s more on the beaches,” he said.
“We were just going to pull our pots, we’re not far [from the beach] we’re just half a mile of the beach,” he said.
It was unclear if the whales he could see were alive or dead.
Shark warning for swimmers
Authorities are warning people to:
- Take additional caution in the Hamelin Bay area
- Adhere to beach closures advised by Local Government Rangers or Surf Life Saving WA.
- Keep informed of the latest detection and sighting information by checking the SharkSmart website or Surf Life Saving WA’s Twitter feed.
- Report shark sightings to Water Police on 9442 8600.