A rescue effort for one of Tasmania’s biggest mass whale strandings is underway on Tuesday morning, but about one third of the 270 have been confirmed dead.
About 60 rescuers are hopeful tides and weather will work in their favour as they begin the rescue near Macquarie Heads for about 270 long finned pilot whales, in three locations.
Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water and Environment marine conservation program wildlife biologist Dr Kris Carlyon is leading the rescue and says triage would be important in the first stage.
“We have animals spread over a large area, we will take those with the best chance. Some animals may be too big or in an unsuitable location,” Dr Carlyon said.
“We will take some from the most accessible area, assess their behaviour and if we can refloat them. It will be a phased approach, we will assess what we are capable of and go from there.”
Dr Carlyon said that late on Monday about one third of the estimated 270 whales had already died.
However, he said the current weather conditions were favourable for survival over coming days.
“They are quite a robust species, we deal with them on a regular basis,” he said.
“Given they are wet and they are cool, it is ideal. If the conditions remain the same they can survive for a few days.”
But he said the rescue could take some time.
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“We don’t know how long this rescue is going to take. This morning’s phase will be critical in determining what is possible. We will have to deal with other factors like weather and tides,” Dr Carlyon said.
“We will have a good idea today potentially what is possible, and how we will track for the rest of the operation.
“This is a very challenging with location, people working in wet conditions, and the challenge of the tides in Macquarie Harbour, which don’t behave like normal tides.
“In terms of mass strandings this is up there with the trickiest we have to deal with.”
Parks and Wildlife regional manager Nic Deka said a large team had been assembled for the rescue effort.
He said they had been offered assistance by fish farms which worked in Macquarie Harbour, but at the moment weren’t needing other volunteers.
“They have been generous enough to provide some boats and personnel. We will take that,” Mr Deka said.
“At the present time we have about 40 staff from DPIPWE, some staff from other departments, staff from the fish farms and a handful of volunteers. All up about 60 people and a number of boats.
“It is not a task for the uninitiated. We need people who are trained, it isn’t without risk. If we need volunteers we will certainly call on them.”
Mr Deka said it was an unusual environment to work in, and presented its own challenges.
“The tides are complex, and driven by barometric pressure, and we’ve had a low pressure system driving water into the harbour. We’ll get the best opportunity in a couple of days when the pressure rises.”