Environment

Australia whales mass stranding; 108 saved in Tasmania

Oct 6 2020 By Asbin Ghimire
whale stranding
whale stranding
Source: Wkimedia

Global biodiversity has decreased alarmingly in half a century. In particular, more than 25,000 species, almost a third of those recognized, are in danger of vanishing. As per the reports, climate change will be responsible for 8% of these. With this rate, nearly half of all animals in the world will become extinct due to climate change by the end of 2100.

The effect of climate change seems inevitable in wildlife. Most recently, around 500 pilot whales washed ashore on Tasmania’s west coast. Statically, this incident has been described as Australia’s biggest mass stranding. Besides, global warming, which is a part of climate change, is an apparent reason for this stranding.

So, what was the cause of this tragedy? Is climate change is only the reason? How will this impact our biodiversity? If you have these or other similar curiosities to unveil, read this article until the end.

Australia’s biggest whale stranding

Last month, close to 500 pilot whales beached themselves on Tasmania’s west coast. Additionally, it is the biggest mass stranding in the history of Australia. In contrast, this whale stranding in Tasmania is the first one involving more than 50 since 2009. On the other hand, the country’s previous national record was 320 whales stranding in Western Australia in 1996.

Whale Stranding
In September 2020, Australia saw the biggest whale stranding in their history
Source: Wikimedia

The whales’ group was first sighted during the rugged Macquarie Harbor aerial survey. Although the rescue operation took place instantly, only 108 whales could be saved. In particular, the 5-day rescue effort included hundreds of volunteers who braved icy waters to lead as many of the animals as possible back to the sea.

Pilot Whales: more prone to beaching

Despite uncertainty about the reason for the whale stranding, reports suggest that the pilot whales are more prone to the changing climatic condition. However, there is a range of hypotheses on why this stranding occurs. Some of the research claims that animals may lose their path while following the fish they hunt.

pilot whale stranding
Pilot Whale is more prone to get stranding
Source: Wikimedia

While others claim that it may the because of one individual that mistakenly leads whole groups to shore. Researchers also assume that such groups are vulnerable to slopy beaches over a large area because the whales’ sonar pulses do not detect the shoreline in deeper waters.

View of indigenous communities

Indigenous communities across the Pacific, including the Maori of Aotearoa (New Zealand), have been sounding alarm for some time. For generations, the people here have watched these whales’ movements closely to help them explore the world’s largest ocean. For Native people in Australia and indigenous peoples around the Pacific, behaviour changes in whales is a sign of worrying impression.

Whale stranding
Maori and indigenous people think environmental changes as the leading stranding cause.
Source: Wikimedia

With a rich oral heritage to be learned from, the Indigenous People of the Pacific may be the best guides to figure out the reason for recent whale stranding. Like the general assumptions, these peoples also thinks that environmental changes are the leading stranding cause. 

Losing whales can be disastrous to nature

Losing such a huge number of whales’ can be disastrous to nature, especially to the oceanic environment. To be specific, researchers discover that these species are essential components for the stabilization of aquatic environments. Additionally, whales also help to control and sustain a wide variety of marine species.

Whales consume many fishes and invertebrates to fulfil their metabolic activities while they are themselves prey to other high trophic level creatures such as orcas. This life-cycle is pretty essential to maintaining balance in the aquatic world.

Whale
Whales play a vital role to balance biodiversity.
Source: Wikimedia

Interestingly, whales continue helping oceanic species in a massive way, even after their death. Their carcasses are an essential source of nutrients that support marine life. Thus, whole aquatic ecosystems will undoubtedly be affected without whales, which in turn affects the entire ecosystem.

Also, whales are responsible for the global cycling of biological resources such as carbon and nutrients, making them much more critical in the face of global warming and climate change. Likewise, whales also contribute to carbon cycling, a crucial environmental element.

Last year’s wildfires

Last year, after fierce bushfires raged in Australia, the total number of wild animals killed shocked many. Also, the count continues to increase, even though the fate of living species remains mostly uncertain. As per the reports, about a billion animals may have died due to the fires across the nation. 

Australia's wildlife nightmare
Koalas was the most seriously affected animal in September 2019 bushfire. 
Source: Pixabay

The bush fire took the life of insects, frogs, reptiles, and mammals. Out of these, Koalas was the most seriously affected animal. In particular, according to the NSW estimates, nearly a third of the koalas may have been killed in the fires, and one-third of their habitat is considered to be lost in the state alone. In comparison, there is an estimate that around 30,000 Koalas may have died in the fires across entire Australia. 

December bushfire risked the survival of endangered species

The bushfire of 2019 December has made scientists more concerned about the survival of already endangered species. In particular, the bushfire destroyed the habitat of endangered species such as the Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoo and Kangaroo Island dunnart and a rat-sized marsupial. 

Likewise, even less endangered species, such as platypus and a small eucalyptus marsupial called the Greater Glider, are also at risk due to the sheer amount of land lost due to fires. The fires also burned the habitat of one of the last mainland populations of quokkas in the state of Western Australia. 

Officials plan to help wildlife

The COVID-19 pandemic abruptly halted most recovery efforts of Australia to restore the habitats of the wildlife. Travel restrictions and social distancing mandates left many scientists homebound, causing difficulties in saving the endangered species. The Australian government has identified 119 priority animal species that require immediate attention.

As pandemic restrictions ease, experts are preparing to return to the area, and donors are planning to spend tens of millions of dollars to support biodiversity. Besides, the federal government has allocated 200 million Australian dollars toward wildlife recovery. Meanwhile, the organization, Science for Wildlife, is launching a six-month survey of koala habitat in the Blue Mountains.

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