230 pilot whales stranded in Australia, half have died (VIDEO)

UPDATE Sept 22: 200 whales have died

Around 230 pilot whales stranded on a beach in the Australian state of Tasmania on Wednesday. About half of them have died, marine conservation experts said. 

The animals stranded on Ocean Beach, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said in a statement. Marine wildlife experts are trying to rescue as many whales as they can.

The pilot whales are stuck on the sand of the beach. Locals covered survivors with blankets and soaked them with buckets of water to keep them alive. 

Whales were trying in vain to break free from the sand. The whales were stranded near Macquarie Harbour, officials said, adding that “it appears about half of the animals are alive.”

Marine conservation experts will try to refloat animals who are strong enough to survive. Two years ago, almost 470 pilot whales -the country’s largest-ever mass stranding- died in the same spot in Australia. 

The news of the 230 pilot whales came just hours after fourteen young male sperm whales were found dead in a separate mass stranding on King Island, between Tasmania and the Australian mainland.

Why whales strand is still not clear. Some scientists suggested strandings could be caused by pods going off track after feeding too close to shore.

Pilot whales are highly social animals and can follow pod mates who stray into danger. That sometimes happens when sick whales swim ashore, and other pod members follow, trying to respond to the trapped whale’s distress signals.

Others believe gently declining beaches like those found in Tasmania confuse the whales’ sonar making them think they are in open waters.

Olaf Meynecke, a researcher at Australia’s Griffith University, said earlier that pilot whales use sophisticated sonar to find prey and for orientation. He links whale and dolphin strandings to changes in electromagnetic fields.

“These changes can be caused by solar storms or earthquakes, but there is also a strong connection between active sonar, for example naval sonar, and dolphin strandings, including pilot whales,” Meynecke said.

Active sonar, the transmission gear used on some ships to assist with navigation, damages the health and lives of some marine mammals.

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