At least 14 young sperm whales have been found dead in a mass stranding on a beach on King Island off Australia’s state of Tasmania.
The whales were dead when they washed ashore, Tasmania’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment said on Tuesday.
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“It is possible the whales were part of the same bachelor pod – a group of younger male sperm whales associating together after leaving the maternal group,” a department spokesperson told local media in a statement.
“Members of the public are reminded it is an offence to interfere with protected wildlife, including being in possession of parts of a dead whale, and are asked to keep their distance.”
An adult sperm whale, among the biggest mammals on earth, can grow up to 12 metres (39 feet) and can weigh up to 57 tonnes.
According to local reports, Marine Conservation Programme wildlife biologists are on their way to investigate the incident, while a plane will be used to check whether there are more whales in the area.
Experts told ABC news the most common cause of stranding is “misadventure … the animals get into trouble in a complex bit of coast or get themselves caught out in a low ride”.
The incident was reported two years after 380 pilot whales died in Australia’s worst mass stranding on Tasmania’s west coast. After a rescue effort, only 111 whales could be saved.
In 1996, 320 pilot whales washed up on the coast of Western Australia, and about 600 pilot whales were beached in nearby New Zealand in 2017.