SYDNEY - MORE than 40 sperm whales have died after a pod of about 50 became stranded off southern Australia, an official said on Friday as rescuers struggled to reach the survivors.
By the time the pod, which is trapped on a sandbar 150m offshore from Perkins Island on the north-west coast of the island state of Tasmania, was discovered late Thursday most had perished.
'They think that there may be seven or eight that are alive,' spokesman for Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Services Liz Wren told AFP.
Ms Wren said rescue options would be difficult because of the massive size of the animals and the fact that the pod was accessible only by water.
'The males are as big as 18 metres, females 12 metres, weighing in between 20 and 50 tonnes,' she said.
She said while rescuers had been able to save some long-finned pilot whales after another mass stranding on a Tasmanian beach in November 'sperm whales are an entirely different kettle of fish and much more difficult.'
'And it's much harder on them when they strand because the great weight of their bodies puts more pressure on their internal organs,' she said.
Officials were now on their way to the pod to see whether any of the animals could be saved, she said.
Ms Wren said authorities were assessing how to remove the carcasses of the dead whales, which could pose a problem because they are stuck on the edge of a major navigation channel for a fishing port.
More than 150 long-finned pilot whales died, with many sustaining deep cuts after thrashing onto rocks, after beaching themselves on the remote west coast of Tasmania state in November.
Australia's southern island of Tasmania experiences about 80 per cent of whale beachings in the country, a phenomenon so far unexplained by science. -- AFP
[Ever since the Sea Shepherd started harassing Japanese whaling ships, there seems to be more reports of beach whales. 50 sperm whales is quite a big pod. Wouldn't it be ironic if it turns out that whaling somehow reduces whale beaching?]