Dozens of whales die in mass stranding in Western Australia

CNN — More than 50 whales have died in a mass stranding event in Western Australia as officials and volunteers race to save dozens of others stuck in shallow waters, authorities said Wednesday.

In a statement on Facebook, the Parks and Wildlife Service of Western Australia said a large pod of long-finned pilot whales were spotted Tuesday morning near the state’s southern coast.

“Sadly, 51 whales have died overnight after a mass stranding at Cheynes Beach,” the agency said, adding that staff and hundreds of volunteers were trying to save 46 other whales by returning them to deep water.

Video posted to social media shows dozens of the whales – some laying sideways, others on their backs – flapping their tails in shallow waters. Another video shows the whales huddling together, remaining still.

Wildlife officials urged the public to keep away from the beach, warning against “large, distressed and potentially sick whales, sharks, waves, heavy machinery and vessels.”

Long-finned pilot whales, which can grow up to 25 feet (7.6 meters) long, are identified by their black color and bulbous foreheads. They can be found in waters of the Southern Hemisphere and North Atlantic Ocean.


Wildlife researcher Vanessa Pirotta said it remains unknown why the pilot whales became stranded, but noted the pod demonstrated the rare behavior of huddling together prior to their beaching.

“It could be that they are trying to avoid a predator, like a killer whale,” she said.

Pilot whales are “very social and dynamic with strong bonds with others,” she said, meaning they could end up getting lost if they followed a disorientated pod member.

Toothed whales such as pilot whales that use sonar to navigate are more commonly prone to stranding than their toothless counterparts, Pirotta said.

And pilot whale strandings are common across the world.

Last September, around 200 were beached along the coast of Tasmania, Australia. Of that number, only 35 survived and were refloated. Tasmania’s largest stranding was in 2020, when more than 450 pilot whales were found.

Earlier this month, a pod of more than 50 pilot whales died after a mass stranding on a northwestern Scottish island.