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Over 100 Whales, Dolphins Die in Australia Beachings

Date: 30-Nov-04
Country: AUSTRALIA

As the death toll of whales and dolphins on King Island off Australia's south coast climbed above 80 following Sunday's beaching, authorities scrambled to another southern island after 53 long-finned pilot whales became stranded on Maria Island.

Half of the whales on Maria Island, off the east coast of the southern island state of Tasmania, died on Monday and rescuers were trying to carry survivors back to deeper water, Tasmanian wildlife officer Shane Hunniford told reporters.

"As I'm looking out to sea now I can see seven people holding rescued whales and beyond that there's a police launch out there and there's a mother and calf out there, so we've had a good success rate, we're pretty happy," Hunniford said.

"In terms of degrees of health, some are good, some are not so good. If things keep going the way they're going now we're doing alright," he said.

Police and wildlife officers and volunteers were also working to shepherd a pod of dolphins away from the scene, concerned they too would follow the whales and beach themselves.

"We're a little bit anxious that they might try and get ashore as well," Hunniford said.

"They're companion marine animals so it's not uncommon for them to accompany one another in the wild, so when one species goes ashore it can often take the whole pod or both species coming ashore," he said.

On King Island, between the Australian mainland and Tasmania, 55 long-finned pilot whales and 25 bottle-nosed dolphins died when they beached themselves on Sunday. A further 17 whales were swimming around 1 km offshore on Monday.

"The immediate focus for the rescue team will be ensuring that the group does not come closer to shore," a wildlife officer told reporters on Monday.

It was unknown why the animals beached themselves.

A year ago, 100 pilot whales died on a remote beach on the southwest coast of Tasmania.

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