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More than 150 short-finned pilot whales have stranded en masse at Hamelin Bay, 10km north of Augusta, Australia early this morning. Around 75 whales have died after beaching themselves. Parks and Wildlife Service staff are onsite and veterinary assistance has been organised to assess the health and wellbeing of the remaining live whales – 50 of which are on the beach and 25 which are in the shallows. Support and equipment is being rushed to the scene to assist the rescue attempt to return the surviving whales to deeper water.
More than 100 volunteers are helping Parks and Wildlife Service staff with the care and rescue of the remaining 7 surviving short-finned pilot whales at Hamelin Bay. The seven whales are the only ones still alive following a mass stranding of 150 whales early this morning at Hamelin Bay near Augusta.
Once we have moved the whales out we will monitor the situation closely as it is possible the whales will come back into shore and re-strand. This has often been the case in previous mass strandings.
The department is working with the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River to remove the deceased whales from the beach. Parks and Wildlife Service officers are taking DNA samples from the deceased whales to try and determine possible clues for why whales stranded.
Hamelin Beach remains closed from Hamelin Caravan Park to North Point including Grace Road and Reserve Road. DPIRD has issued a shark alert for the area.
Short-finned pilot whales are closely related to long-finned pilot whales, although they have shorter flippers with less of an elbow. They are brownish-grey to black, with a pinkish-grey anchor shape on the undersides. They have a bulbous forehead, but the flippers are less than 18 per cent of the body length. Females are about four metres long and males approximately 5.5 metres.
They inhabit tropical and subtropical waters and may be seen in the hundreds but groups usually number less than 100. They often strand en masse. Nine shortfinned pilot whales were found dead after stranding at Albany’s Ledge Point in November 1984 and 38 short-finned pilot whales stranded in April 1991 at Sandy Point, north of Broome, but died within a few hours.
The largest mass stranding of whales in WA was in 1996 when 320 long-finned pilot whales stranded themselves in Dunsborough.