110 whales found dead

25/11/2003 10:28 - (SA)

Hobart, Australia - More than 100 pilot whales and 10 dolphins have died in a mysterious mass beaching on the coast of Australia's island state of Tasmania, local officials said on Tuesday.

Tasmanian Environment Minister Bryan Green told parliament the carcasses of the ocean mammals had been found on Monday by an abalone diver on a remote peninsula off the state's southwest coast called Point Hibbs.

Experts who flew to the site on Tuesday said they counted 110 long-finned pilot whales and 10 bottle-nosed dolphins, all apparently dead for several days.

The mass beaching of whales has long mystified scientists, with theories about the phenonoma ranging from diseases that upset the mammals' internal navigation system to herd behaviour in which large numbers of whales blindly follow a leader into trouble.

External factors

But David Pemberton, the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Tasmanian Museum who spoke with scientists at the beaching site, said the fact that both whales and dolphins were involved implied they became stranded while fleeing an attacker or during a "feeding frenzy".

"When it's a mixed stranding like this, you start to get suspicious about external factors," Pemberton said.

He suggested the whales and dolphins had been involved in a "frenetic feeding frenzy" that took them too close to shore or had been driven to the beach by killer whales or other predators.

Scientists from the state environment department and the museum were investigating the incident, officials said.

"This type of event is always the cause of much sadness," Green told parliament.

Long-finned pilot whales are found in cold temperate and sub-polar waters.
While predominantly a deep ocean species, pilot whales will enter coastal and shallow waters in search of food and are regularly involved in beaching incidents, sometimes involving hundreds of animals.

Source: SA