Sun, Jan 25, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Australian rescuers fight to save two beached whales

AFP , SYDNEY

Three more sperm whales from a group of almost 50 that beached en masse in Australia’s south have died, with just two survivors sandwiched among the dead, rescuers said yesterday.

The pod of 48 whales became trapped last week on a sandbar 150m offshore from Perkins Island on the northwest coast of the island state of Tasmania.

By the time they were discovered late on Thursday most had perished, with only five still alive on Friday. By yesterday morning rescue spokesman Warwick Brennan said there were only two left.

“Unfortunately three more have died overnight, so we’ve got two whales alive at this stage,” Brennan said.

Rescuers had hoped to use the morning’s high tide to push the survivors out to sea, but Brennan said high winds and rain had made the move impossible.

“The weather conditions out here with the winds and the swell haven’t given us a good opportunity to try and rescue these whales,” he said. “The difficulty we’re facing is that the two that are actually alive are in amongst a whole lot of dead whales and they’re incredibly large animals.”

Male sperm whales can grow to 18m and females 12m in length, weighing in between 20 tonnes and 50 tonnes.

Brennan said rescuers were trying to keep the surviving whales alive until the weather improved and they could attempt to move them. In the meantime, he said the crew would try to clear a path through the dead animals.

“If they stay strong enough and we can get a slight window of opportunity, we might be able to look at moving those dead whales and getting the live ones out,” he said. “But at this stage we’ve got a long way to go.”

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