Rescue teams saved two stranded whales along the Atlantic coast of Argentina Tuesday, the World Marine Foundation said.
The animals were stranded on the beach of the seaside resort town of La Lucila del Mar, 220 miles (360 kilometers) south of Buenos Aires, just as spring arrives to the southern hemisphere.
“The first, which was stranded on Sunday, was a juvenile female humpback whale, 32 feet (9.8 meters) long and approximately eight tons in weight,” the conservation group said in a statement.
The second individual, which “is a male of the same species, 28 feet long, and approximately seven tons, appeared Monday night,” the foundation added.
Some 30 people participated in the rescue operation, including local residents, marine conservationists, Civil Defense members, coast guard officers, firefighters, volunteers and beach lifeguards.
Their collective efforts allowed the animals to return to the sea, the statement said.
“Upon arriving to survey the first animal’s situation, primary support efforts were immediately carried out, including assuring the individual’s position allowed it to breathe, keeping its pectoral fins underwater in order to stabilize its body temperature as much as possible,” the organization said.
The whole procedure was “difficult,” the group said. At one point, the force of the waves knocked the whale over so that the mammal’s blowhole was underwater and it was unable to breathe.
“Thanks to a quick action, they were able to turn it over,” said Sergio Rodriguez Heredia, a biologist at the World Marine Foundation’s Rescue Center.
Rescuers tucked cables underneath the whale’s body — connected to a huge backhoe tractor crane — hoping to free it from the sandy sea floor.
The workers noticed the second whale overnight, seeing it was in a “good state of health,” said Augusto Giachetti, director of the Civil Defense’s coastal division.
They waited until dawn to begin the second whale’s rescue.
“It was necessary to realign the animal, using the assistance of a backhoe and special cables to move it a big enough distance that it was able to float,” he Giachetti said.
Once the whale realized it was able to float, it swam out to sea.
Rescuers successfully refloated 28 pilot whales stranded on a notorious stretch of New Zealand’s coast Tuesday, but the mammals remained close to shore and could beach themselves again, wildlife officials said.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) said the long-finned pilot whales were part of a pod of around 50 found Monday at Farewell Spit, about 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of the South Island tourist town of Nelson.
Around 40 were pushed out to sea on Monday evening but swam back ashore by the next morning, with around 60 volunteers helping move the 28 survivors back into the water.
“The whales have been close to shore and it’s uncertain whether they will swim off or possibly re-strand,” a DOC spokeswoman said.
“DOC rangers and volunteers remain on-site ready to respond if the whales start swimming for shore and become stranded again.”
At least 15 of the original pod have died.
Farewell Spit is a 26-kilometre hook of sand that protrudes into the sea at Golden Bay.
It has been the scene of at least 10 pilot whale strandings in the past 15 years.
The most recent was in February 2017, when almost 700 of the mammals beached, resulting in 250 deaths.
Scientists are unclear about why the beach is so deadly. One theory is that the spit creates a shallow seabed in the bay that interferes with the whales’ sonar navigation systems.
Sri Lanka has saved some 120 pilot whales in a gruelling overnight rescue involving the navy, officials said Tuesday, after the island nation’s biggest stranding.
Three pilot whales and one dolphin died of injuries following the mass beaching on Monday on the country’s western coast at Panadura some 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of the capital Colombo.
A handful of whales had started beaching in the early afternoon and their numbers swelled to more than 100 by dusk, overwhelming local volunteers, resident Pathum Hirushan told AFP.
“Some of the fishermen from the area tried to push back the whales. The sea was rough and the waves would bring them back to shore,” Hirushan said.
“It was very tiring, but later the navy came in with their boats and worked through the night.”
The navy and the coastguard, as well as dozen of volunteers, were able to move the other mammals into deeper waters with the aid of small patrol craft by dawn on Tuesday, navy spokesman Indika de Silva told AFP.
Volunteers had come forward to help with the rescue despite the region being under a days-long lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pilot whales — which can grow up to six metres (20 feet) long and weigh a tonne — are highly social.
The causes of mass strandings remain unknown despite scientists studying the phenomenon for decades.
The wildlife department’s chief veterinarian Tharaka Prasad told AFP autopsies were carried out on the dead whales and officials were “satisfied they were disoriented”.
He hailed the rescue as one of the most successful in the world.
Authorities had braced for mass deaths after some 360 out of 470 pilot whales that beached in a remote harbour in Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania in September were not able to be saved.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority had said Monday that the Panadura stranding was the South Asian country’s largest.
The last mass beaching in Sri Lanka was in June 2017 when 20 pilot whales were stranded at a beach in the coastal town of Sampur near Trincomalee harbour in the country’s northeast. All were saved.
A sperm whale was stranded inside Trincomalee harbour in April 2011 and two navy boats guided it out into deeper waters where it was reunited with waiting whales.
The waters around Trincomalee, used by Allied forces as a staging post during World War II, have a high concentration of blue and sperm whales.
Spain has temporarily banned sailboats from a stretch of its northwestern coast after several vessels were damaged in attacks by orcas, or killer whales, in recent weeks.
The week-long ban, which came into effect on Tuesday night, applies to sailboats under 15 metres (49 feet) long and aims to protect “both people and the orcas”, the transport ministry said in a statement.
It extends between the capes of the Prioriono Grande and la Punta de Estaca de Bares in the northwestern region of Galicia, a stretch of about 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the coast.
The first attack was reported on August 19, said the ministry. Since then there had been several more orca attacks against sailboats, causing various degrees of damage to the vessels, mostly to their rudders.
The sailboats attacked were all under 15 metres long.
“We have got a more accurate count and we can confirm that 380 whales are dead,” Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service manager Nic Deka said.
“There’s around 30 left still alive but the good news is that we have saved 50,” he said, describing the rescue effort as emotionally taxing.
The first of the giant mammals were found on Monday, sparking a major effort to free them from a sandbar only accessible by boat.
It is the largest mass stranding ever recorded in Tasmania, an island state off mainland Australia’s south coast, and likely the biggest in the country’s history.
A rescue crew of 60 conservationists, skilled volunteers and local fish farm workers has concentrated efforts on a group of whales partially submerged in the water.
The rescuers have spent two days wading in the cold shallows to free the still living creatures, using boats fitted with special slings to guide them back to the open ocean.
They are now racing to free as many of the 30 remaining live whales as possible.
“They’re focused on the job — it’s demanding work, some of them are up to their chest in cold water so we’re trying to rotate the crews,” Deka said.
“Its very draining physically. It’s also draining emotionally.”
The whales have been found stranded up to 10 kilometres (six miles) apart, and officials have now expanded their search area to see if more of the mammals are stuck nearby.
Some of the whales rescued Tuesday re-stranded overnight, in line with predictions by whale behaviour experts, but Deka remained upbeat about the immediate prospects for those that remained in the ocean.
“The good news is the majority of whales that were rescued are still out in deep water and swimming,” he told reporters in the nearby town of Strahan.
“They haven’t stranded. So we’ve been more successful than not.”
The causes of mass strandings remain unknown — even to scientists who have been studying the phenomenon for decades.
However, some researchers have suggested the highly sociable pilot whales may have gone off track after feeding close to the shoreline or by following one or two whales that strayed.
Tasmanian environment department marine biologist Kris Carlyon said it was a “natural event” with strandings of the species occurring regularly throughout history in both southern Australian and neighbouring New Zealand.
“We do step in and respond in these situations, but as far as being able to prevent these occurring in the future, there’s really little that we can do,” he said.
Carlyon said animal welfare issues were a major reason authorities and conservationists intervened in mass strandings, along with public expectations and the ability to learn more about a species.
It would have been a “hugely stressful” experience for the whales that were freed, he said, but past events showed they were likely to thrive in the wild.
“We have shown fairly conclusively that animals will regroup, they will reform those social bonds, and they will — at least in the short- to medium-term for the duration that they’ve been tracked — demonstrate normal and natural behaviour,” Carlyon said.
Officials will now turn their attention to the disposal of the whale carcasses, with assessors arriving onsite Wednesday to create a clean-up plan.
“As time goes on (the whales) do become more fatigued so their chances of survival reduces,” Deka said.
“But we’ll keep working as long as there’s live animals at the site.”
Rescuers raced to save nearly 200 whales stuck in a remote Australian harbour on Tuesday, hoping to minimise the death toll of a mass stranding which had already killed 90.
Officials said at least 25 of the mammals had been freed so far.
A large pod of long-finned pilot whales is currently stuck on a sandbar in Macquarie Harbour, on Tasmania’s rugged and sparsely populated west coast, scientists said.
Images from the scene showed a shallow body of water, thick with scores of the large slick-black creatures manoeuvering for space, and rescuers wading in as they worked to refloat the whales in deeper passages.
About 60 people — including volunteers and local fish-farm workers — are involved in the rescue attempt.
Government marine biologist Kris Carlyon said “about a third” of the 270 animals were dead by late Monday, and that rescuing survivors would be a challenging task likely to take several days.
But there were hopes Tuesday that efforts were already paying off, with at least 25 rescued and escorted to open ocean by boats, according to the official leading the operation.
“We have now freed a small number successfully that appear to have stayed out at sea, and are now scaling up that approach,” Parks and Wildlife Service manager Nic Deka said.
Though mass whale strandings occur relatively often in Tasmania, such a large group has not been seen in the area for more than a decade.
The animals are only accessible by boat, limiting the number of rescuers who can reach them.
They are battling chilly and rainy conditions as well as the harbour’s unusual tides, which are dictated by barometric pressure.
“In terms of mass whale strandings in Tasmania, this is up there with the trickiest,” Carlyon told reporters in the nearby town of Strahan.
However, Carlyon said many of the partially submerged whales should be able to survive for the several days it would take his team to complete the task, in part due to the inclement weather.
“It’s pretty ugly for people on the ground but as far as the whales go its ideal — it’s keeping them wet, it’s keeping them cool,” he said.
Carlyon said rescuers would still have to “triage” the whales, prioritising the healthiest and most accessible.
– ‘Notorious whale trap’ –
Most of a 30-strong group of whales on a nearby beach were found dead Monday, though two were saved and released.
About 60 others on the sandbar are also believed to have since died and Carlyon said it was “inevitable that we’ve lost more”, but a detailed assessment using infrared cameras from the air was planned for Wednesday.
Once the whales are returned to deeper water, Carlyon said, the biggest challenge is herding the social creatures out of the sandbar-riddled harbour — and hoping they don’t swim back to the remaining pod.
Scientists said it was unclear what caused the latest stranding, but Carlyon suggested the pod may have gone off track after feeding close to the shoreline or by following one or two whales that strayed.
Karen Stockin, an expert in marine mammals at New Zealand’s Massey University, said Tasmania was a “particular hotspot” for pilot whale strandings in large pods.
“It seems to be a notorious whale trap… you do tend to get these mass stranding events there,” she told AFP.
Stockin said that while pilot whales were typically more resilient than other whale species, rescuers faced a race against the clock as the mammals can overheat, their muscles deteriorate and their organs become crushed outside their natural environment.
“Time is never your friend,” she said. “So without doubt, the more expedited rescue missions are, the more likely there is an increased (chance) of survival.”
Mike Double, the head of the Tasmania-based Australian Marine Mammal Centre, said it was “tragic” that such a massive pod had become stranded, but other whales had previously been saved from the same location.
“The state team responsible for responding are extremely experienced and they’ll be absolutely working incredibly hard to get the best possible outcome,” he said.
Up to 145 pilot whales have died in a mass stranding in a remote part of New Zealand, with authorities saying Monday they made the “heartbreaking” decision to euthanise dozens that lay stricken on the shore.
The stranding was discovered by a hiker late Saturday on Stewart Island, 30 kilometres (19 miles) off the southern coast of the South Island.
Half of the whales were already dead and due to the condition of the remaining whales and the remote, difficult-to-access location, the decision was made to euthanise the remainder.
“Sadly, the likelihood of being able to successfully re-float the remaining whales was extremely low,” said Ren Leppens, the Department of Conservation’s operations manager on Stewart Island.
“The remote location, lack of nearby personnel and the whales’ deteriorating condition meant the most humane thing to do was to euthanise.
“However, it’s always a heart-breaking decision to make.”
It was one of four strandings discovered on New Zealand shores over the weekend which stretched DOC resources.
In the far north of New Zealand, eight pygmy killer whales were transported by truck to the east coast from the west where sea conditions were too rough to refloat them.
Two of the pod had to be euthanised, but Daren Grover of the marine conservation group Project Jonah said the remainder were saved by transporting them by road to the more-sheltered east coast 20 kilometres away.
“It’s highly stressful for the whales, but they’ll be using suitable padding to protect them,” he told Fairfax Media.
They were to be kept in a stream overnight and refloated at high tide on Tuesday morning.
There were two other whale strandings over the weekend in New Zealand, where beachings are relatively common with the conservation department responding to an average 85 incidents a year, mostly of single animals.
A sperm whale which beached in Doubtless Bay died overnight on Saturday, while the body of a dead female pygmy sperm whale was found at Ohiwa on the west coast of the North Island.
Exactly why whales and dolphins strand is not fully known but factors can include sickness, navigational error, geographical features, a rapidly falling tide, being chased by a predator, or extreme weather.