Almost 60 pilot whales die in Australian mass stranding

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Posted by on October 25, 2005 at 15:04:09:

SYDNEY (AFP) - Almost 60 pilot whales have died after stranding themselves on a beach on the Australian island of Tasmania.

A Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said on Tyesday that the pod of 67 pilot whales was spotted at Tasmania's Marion Bay on Tuesday morning.

Most were stranded on an area of the bay inaccessible by road and most had died by the time wildlife officers used boats to ferry volunteers across to them, spokeswoman Liz Wren said.

"We managed to save 10 whales, unfortunately the rest died," she told AFP.

"We want to make sure that the one's we've got back into the ocean don't restrand themselves so we've got boats out there which will stay in the area until late tonight to keep them away from the shore."

Pilot whales, which can grow up to six metres (20 foot) long, frequently beach themselves in a phenomenon that remains a mystery to scientists.

Tasmania's rugged coastline has one of the highest stranding rates in the world, with state government records showing some 2,800 pilot whales and 500 dolphins had beached themselves up until 2003.

Wren said there were a number of theories on why the animals stranded.

"One of them may stray too close to the shore in rough seas. Then the distress signal it sends out attracts other members of the pod," she said.

"There's also speculation it might be due to certain topographical features. We've had a mass stranding here at Marion Bay before -- there's a wide sandbank at the mouth of the bay and that might disorientate them.

"Other people think it might be something to do with the magnetic fields that they use to navigate. We simply don't know."

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