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28 pilot whales die after mass stranding on Australian beach

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Credit: Parks and Wildlife Service

Up to 160 pilot whales stranded themselves Thursday along the coast of Western Australia, sparking a rescue operation which ended when most of them appeared to escape, according to local officials. 28 were confirmed to have died.

The whales were discovered on early Thursday morning in the Toby Inlet area near Dunsborough, a town about 187 kilometers (116 miles) southwest of Perth in Western Australia.

The state’s Parks and Wildlife Service said four pods of whales were spread across an area of about 500 meters (0.3 mile), but most of them were still in the water, allowing them to eventually escape.

“We can confirm that 28 long-finned pilot whales died after stranding at Toby Inlet this morning,” the wildlife service said in an update at 4:45 p.m.

“Scientists and veterinarians are continuing to collect samples and data from the whales before the final whales are removed from the beach,” the agency said. “This data will hopefully help scientists understand more about the species and their behaviour.”

The agency initially appeared pessimistic about the odds of survival. Pilot whales work as a close-knit community and need to be in agreement with each other to make a move, causing mass strandings and making it more difficult to rescue them.

“A spotter plane has been in the sky looking for the pod that swam out to sea,” the agency said. “There has been no further sightings of the pod this afternoon, which is good news. The spotter plane will continue to monitor the area during daylight hours, but we are hopeful that the pod will not return to the shallower water.”

In October 2022, nearly 500 pilot whales died after stranding themselves on two beaches in New Zealand’s Chatham Islands, making it one of the biggest strandings ever recorded.

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