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Australian Volunteers Rescue 11 Beached Whales, But Many More Die


Australian scientists are using satellite technology to track 11 whales that survived a mass stranding in the southern state of Tasmania over the weekend. The long-finned pilot whales were the only survivors of a pod of 64 found beached near the small town of Stanley. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Volunteers spent the weekend tending to the stranded whales, which had beached themselves near Stanley on Tasmania's north-west coast. Fifty-three of the large marine mammals died but rescuers did manage to save 11 others.

They were taken back into deeper water. Tracking devices the size of a matchbox were attached to the dorsal fin of five long-finned pilot whales.

The devices show the whales have been swimming freely in open seas in Bass Strait, the large body of water that separates Tasmania from the Australian mainland.

Scientist Rosemary Gales hopes the global positioning technology will last.

"That is a little bit of an unknown because we haven't done this before. It partly depends on how often the fin, the dorsal fin is out of the water because it can only transmit out of the water and then that in turn has an effect on its battery life. But we are hoping several weeks at this point," said Gales.

Volunteers spent hours in the cold sea water helping the whales before the survivors were transported by road to another beach and released.

The rescue was co-ordinated by national park ranger Chris Arthur, who says it was a fantastic effort by people who were eager to help.

"They gave up a weekend. People got sunburnt. People got engaged with these animals and it is new technology and it is a new experience to actually know that the effort that people have put in is successful and we will just monitor it and see where we go," said Arthur.

Tasmania is a notorious whale trap. Eighty percent of Australia's whale strandings happen there. Researchers are baffled as to why the whales swim ashore.

Scientists believe the latest case near the town of Stanley was simply an accident and that the whales were caught unexpectedly in shallow water and were pushed towards the shore by the tide.

Pilot whales are among the smaller whales, growing up to about five meters in length.

Early examinations of the dead animals have shown no sign of disease. Further tests will be carried out and the whales will be buried on Tuesday at the beach where they washed ashore.

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