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Battle to save stranded whales

ABOUT 80 whales and dolphins were stranded yesterday on a remote southwest Australian beach.

Authorities plan to truck the few survivors to a protected bay before attempting to launch them back to sea.

Volunteers and government officers struggled to save 17 long-finned pilot whales that were being battered by rough seas in Hamelin Bay in Western Australia, the state Conservation Department said.

It was the latest mass beaching of whales in Australia. Strandings happen periodically in Tasmania, in the southeast, as whales pass during their migration to and from Antarctic waters, but scientists do not know why. It is unusual, however, for whales and dolphins to become beached together.

Department spokesman Greg Mair said the 17 survivors, all whales, will be shifted by truck at daybreak today to nearby Flinders Bay and helped out to sea.

"This method has been chosen to ensure the whales' greatest chance of survival," Mair said. "Flinders Bay provides sheltered waters and is far enough away from the stranding site to reduce the risk of the whales re-stranding."

Earlier this month, 194 pilot whales and seven dolphins became stranded on a sandbar in Tasmania and only 54 whales and five dolphins were able to be saved.

In January, 45 sperm whales died after becoming beached on a different Tasmanian sandbar. Last November, 150 long-finned pilot whales died after beaching on a rocky coastline one week after a pod of 60 also came ashore on the island state.


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