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Stranded whales rescued

Tue., March 3, 2009

Hundreds of pilot whales, dolphins beached on Australian island

SYDNEY – Rough seas whipped by strong winds today prevented the rescue of the last pilot whale still stranded after a group of dozens of whales and dolphins went aground on a beach in southern Australia, an official said.

The animal was among 54 whales and five bottlenose dolphins that rescuers refloated from Naracoopa Beach on Tasmania state’s King Island on Monday, said Chris Arthur of Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service.

However, one 10-foot adult whale struggled to reach open sea Monday night, and so rescuers guided it back to the beach instead, Arthur said. A dozen rescuers kept the whale cool and upright beneath wet fabric while waiting for strong winds and rough seas to clear, he said.

“We’ll stabilize the animal now and work out what we’re going to do with it,” Arthur told the Associated Press by telephone from the beach. “The weather is not conducive at the moment to a rescue attempt.”

There was no longer any danger of the other rescued whales and dolphins returning to the beach, Arthur said.

A total of 194 pilot whales and seven dolphins became stranded Sunday evening – the fourth beaching incident in recent months in Tasmania. Up to 150 volunteers helped wildlife experts keep dozens of the animals alive and to refloat them on Monday. The rest of the animals died.

It was not clear why the animals had beached on the island, halfway between Tasmania and mainland Australia.

Strandings happen periodically in Tasmania as whales go by during their migration to and from Antarctic waters, but scientists do not know why it happens. It is unusual, however, for whales and dolphins to get stranded together.

In January, 45 sperm whales died after becoming stranded on a remote Tasmanian sandbar.

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