Efforts to rescue 270 pilot whales stranded on the West Coast has been “reasonably successful” with more than 25 guided out to sea and one third believed to have died.
The number of people involved was scaled up on Tuesday with more than 40 staff from DPIPWE and about 25 volunteers involved across Macquarie Harbour and Ocean Beach.
Parks and Wildlife Regional Manager Nic Deka said the use of an infrared camera on Wednesday morning would provide more of an idea of how many whales had perished.
“The whales that we have been rescuing are those closest to the deeper water of the channel and that is where most of the effort has been focused,” he said.
“They are being escorted out with the use of a boat and a sling where they were released.”
At Ocean Beach, 25 whales have died while two have been triaged.
Mr Deka said the process to guide the whales out had become more efficient with a preferred method determined.
“We get a sling underneath the whale and that is attached to a boat. We also have crew in the water who help to maneuver the whale off the sand bar and into the deeper water where it achieves a greater level of buoyancy and the boat escorts the whale out to the deep water,” he said.
Marine Conservation Program wildlife biologist Dr Kris Carlyon said there was a risk the whales would restrand.
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“It is something we see, we are hopeful it won’t be the case but it would not be unexpected if we saw whales restrand,” he said.
“The hope is we get them off shore and give them the best possible chance of survival.”
In the water staff and volunteers are working on rotation.
“It is physically fatiguing but it is also mentally fatiguing. We are dealing with large stressed animals for several days at a time and it does take an emotional toll sometimes,” he said.
“There is a real connection with the public and there is an expectation from everyone that we are going to intervene and do the best that we can and that is due to that emotional response we do get from them.”
As part of Surf Life Saving Tasmania’s emergency response team Ulverstone Surf Lifesaver Tully O’Neil is helping patrol the waters. He said it was a “once in a lifetime” experience.
“It is a bit sad to see that it is real,” he said. “We will be keeping an eye on everyone in the water.”
West Coast Council Macquarie Heads camping ground caretaker Ian Burgess is on the ground helping support staff and volunteers in the water with a warm fire and place to refuel.
He was called to the area on Monday and was surprised by the number of whales when he arrived.
“When my boss said there were a heap of whales I thought there would be 20-40 but I got here, did a rough count, and got to 100 and wan’t half way through them. It is huge,” he said.
“Ten years ago they beached up here as well and they might have saved a few of them but the majority died and they buried them on the beach.
“There are a couple of live ones and they will try and get them back in the water but it is a losing battle.”
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