Upon opening the lappy this morning, top of the news list was this: Rescue efforts continue for beached whales
Basically, a pod of sperm whales became stranded on some huge sandbars at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s wild west coast. You can see how narrow the harbour entrance is, plus sandbars are visible even on the Google map! The sandbars exist because this is the outlet of the mighty Franklin River– the one conservationists have fought so hard to save from the hydroelectricity schemes. Ironically, one piece of conservation is contributing to another species’ bad fortune. Nature does not choose it’s champions nor victims using logic or reason.
Macquarie Harbour showing narrow entrance
If you look on Google Maps, you’ll see that the Franklin River is huge and deep, ending in the monstrous Macquarie Harbourwhich has various deep, navigable channels. I imagine that the current pod of sperm whales was planning on steering themselves up a nice channel and investigating the nooks in the deep harbour.
The mighty Franklin River
Other whale pods had probably taken some great excursions here and reported to the whale-folk back home. This time, not so lucky and some of the family became beached. The reporter said the whales were in good condition and will probably be refloated in 24 hours. I’m not so sure, looking at their mouths, but we’ll see.
The strandings on adjacent Ocean Beach (north of entrance) are quite frequent. It is a huge long, straight beach, continually facing the Roaring Forties, blowing in unfettered by any land after Madagascar.
Ocean Beach & the Roaring Forties
It is pretty much continuous and I imagine that whales could easily be pulled out of their intended route and into the mass of waves running towards shore. I’ve notice the torrent of waves building up more than a kilometre from shore.
When I visited Ocean Beach in 2009, the wind was blowing hard as usual, there was a certain stench of rotting mutton birds and fish, but no whales or their carcasses. However, people who live in surrounding towns and villages are used to strandings so I think they probably happened long before humans arrived.
Why do whales strand? Zoologists and other scientists concerned with currents and climate change have many theories, none of which are easy to prove in the short term. Some say that whales’ navigation system is disturbed by an illness, pollution or the earth’s changeable magnetic field, causing them to go off course or miscalculate the position of a dimly remembered shoreline.
Tasmania, pimple in the Southern Ocean
Others say that Ocean Beach, on the “tiny” island of Tasmania within a vast Southern Ocean, is only a blip iin a big space, so sometimes the whales hit the island merely by chance. I don’t know what is believable about any theory on this , but as a soft-hearted human and conservationist, I find it worrying when these wonderful, lumbering animals meet their end during the prime of life.
A ScoopIt show integrates this blog post with other news about whales and conservation: