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Experts baffled by back-to-back strandings killing hundreds of whales in Tasmania

Experts are torn after two deadly mass whale strandings in Tasmania made international headlines this week, but some have floated theories as to why the incidents happened.

The big picture: The The Tasmanian Department of Natural Resources and Environment said in a statement it will “assess the scene and the situation to plan an appropriate response.” The answer has been guided by a manual revised since Tasmania’s largest-ever mass whale stranding in 2020.

  • “Whale strandings are a complete mystery,” marine expert Vanessa Pirotta told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “but what’s really unusual here is that this is the second stranding for this week.”

Details: Most of the 230 whales stranded on a beach in Tasmania this week have died, days after 14 dead sperm whales were found on the beach.

Situation: The ABC reports a few common theories about why these incidents happen:

  • Wrong navigation: “So it could be a misnavigation,” said ABC’s marine expert Vanessa Pirotta, and adding environmental factors may also come into play.
  • hats: The fact that pilot whales are “herd species” could be a contributing factor, according to retired veterinarian David Obendorf, who previously worked with the Tasmanian environmental department.
  • The calender: “There are certain times of the year and locations that are prone to a frequency of whaling,” Obendorf told ABC.
  • Geography: Beach topography and tidal conditions can make an environment more prone to strandings, Obendorf added. If whales can’t use their echolocation, they can’t navigate deeper water and get stuck in the sand, eventually leading to drowning.
  • Another expert agreed that Tasmania’s topography makes it a bit of a “whale trap” as the coast is close to the edge of the shelf where it sinks.

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