Tasmanian multi-species mass stranding – March 2, 2009

Photo: Adam Lau

Photo: Adam Lau

Another tragedy linked to ocean noise pollution: a multi-species stranding linked to seismic surveys. This event involved some 189 pilot whales and 10 dolphins in Naracoopa, Tasmania.

For a local article see here: http://www.watoday.com.au/national/stranded-whales-herded-out-to-sea-20090303-8mom.html

Tasmania has a long history of stranding pilot whales. While the causes of these single species strandings remain a mystery, the general assumption has been that they represent some sort of group response to compromised biological conditions.

Sunday’s case involves multiple species – pilot whales and dolphins – an indicator of a broader compromise to the habitat consistent with acoustical trauma.

John Hocivar with Greenpeace sent the article below, quoting Ness Pearce, the national research director from Sea Shepard.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to get some unambiguous information about the Manila Bay Melon Headed whale stranding of February 11. While there is no conclusive data yet from the necropsies, there are three potential acoustical suspects: a seismic survey operation in the area, the commencement of “Cobra 2009” joint military operations, and the ongoing and illegal dynamite fishing common to the region.

I will keep you posted on this event as information becomes available.

Meanwhile we can put out our prayers of solace for these unfortunate animals, and hopes that if human agency is responsible for these tragedies, that we learn how to be much less reckless in our maritime enterprises.

Today’s mass beaching of whales and dolphins at King Island was caused by seismic exploration, a whale conservation expert claims.

Locals at Naracoopa have worked since dawn to save the 54 whales and six dolphins which were still alive this morning.

About 140 pilot whales have already died on the beach — but this afternoon it emerged that all six dolphins have been returned to the water.

The state of Tasmania has experienced about 540 beachings in the past 22 weeks, including four mass strandings in the past three months – and to make matters worse, many rescue efforts are ineffective and cruel, the crew of whale conservation group Sea Shepherd says.

“Dolphins don’t beach. It just doesn’t happen unless an individual has a brain disorder. So to get so many whales and dolphins stranded at once is extraordinarily unusual,” Sea Shepherd’s national director for research, Ness Pearce, said.

“When you find that the areas where the animals are commonly stranded are those where there is coal, oil and gas exploration going on through the use of seismic activities, there is undoubtedly something going on here other than nature.”

Sea Shepherd members traveled on their ship Steve Irwin to a mass beaching of more than 50 sperm whales on the Tasmania’s northwest coast on January 22 — but they were told their help wasn’t needed despite carrying marine scientists and expert whale-saving equipment on board.

“When we arrived there on the Steve Irwin, we found about eight guys standing around with nothing but a bucket and a hose,” Ms Pearce said. “We asked if we could help and they said, ‘No thanks, we’re fine’.”

The crew members claim to have witnessed one man dismembering a dead whale with a chainsaw just meters from another that was still alive, causing the live mammal even more distress and suffering.

“They are socially advanced animals, so imagine the stress on a beached mammal with one of its pod being hacked to pieces alongside it. The end result is one of the most horrific sights I have seen and the carcasses are still there in a blood pool that runs over a kilometer.”

Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries and Water confirmed they are investigating whether any seismic activity may have interfered with today’s stranded animals.

“As a matter of protocol … the government touches base with both defense and the oil and gas industry to determine whether there is any naval exercises or exploration taking place in the area before the stranding,” spokeswoman Rosemary Gales said.

“With strandings everybody has a theory … It’s not typical for dolphins to become stranded with whales but it has happened several times in the past.”

Ms Gales said there was no naval activity in the area but the department is yet to confirm if any exploration was taking place at the time of the beaching.