At least 380 whales dead in Australia mass stranding

A handout photo taken on September 22, 2020 and received on September 23 from Tasmania Police shows people helping a whale in Macquarie Harbour on the rugged west coast of Tasmania, as hundreds of pilot whales have died in a mass stranding in southern Australia despite efforts to save them, with rescuers racing to free a few dozen survivors. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 September 2020

At least 380 whales dead in Australia mass stranding

  • The rescuers have spent two days wading in the cold shallows to free the still living creatures
  • The whales have been found stranded up to 10 kilometers (six miles) apart

HOBART, Australia: At least 380 whales have died in a mass stranding in southern Australia, officials said Wednesday, with rescuers managing to free just a few dozen survivors.
Nearly the entire pod of 460 long-finned pilot whales stuck in Macquarie Harbor, on the rugged and sparsely populated west coast of Tasmania, has now perished.
“We have got a more accurate count and we can confirm that 380 whales are dead,” Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service manager Nic Deka said.
“There’s around 30 left still alive but the good news is that we have saved 50,” he said, describing the rescue effort as emotionally taxing.
The first of the giant mammals were found on Monday, sparking a major effort to free them from a sandbar only accessible by boat.
It is the largest mass stranding ever recorded in Tasmania, an island state off mainland Australia’s south coast, and likely the biggest in the country’s history.
A rescue crew of 60 conservationists, skilled volunteers and local fish farm workers has concentrated efforts on a group of whales partially submerged in the water.
The rescuers have spent two days wading in the cold shallows to free the still living creatures, using boats fitted with special slings to guide them back to the open ocean.
They are now racing to free as many of the 30 remaining live whales as possible.
“They’re focused on the job — it’s demanding work, some of them are up to their chest in cold water so we’re trying to rotate the crews,” Deka said.
“Its very draining physically. It’s also draining emotionally.”
The whales have been found stranded up to 10 kilometers (six miles) apart, and officials have now expanded their search area to see if more of the mammals are stuck nearby.
Some of the whales rescued Tuesday re-stranded overnight, in line with predictions by whale behavior experts, but Deka remained upbeat about the immediate prospects for those that remained in the ocean.
“The good news is the majority of whales that were rescued are still out in deep water and swimming,” he told reporters in the nearby town of Strahan.
“They haven’t stranded. So we’ve been more successful than not.”
The causes of mass strandings remain unknown — even to scientists who have been studying the phenomenon for decades.
However, some researchers have suggested the highly sociable pilot whales may have gone off track after feeding close to the shoreline or by following one or two whales that strayed.
Tasmanian environment department marine biologist Kris Carlyon said it was a “natural event” with strandings of the species occurring regularly throughout history in both southern Australian and neighboring New Zealand.
“We do step in and respond in these situations, but as far as being able to prevent these occurring in the future, there’s really little that we can do,” he said.
Carlyon said animal welfare issues were a major reason authorities and conservationists intervened in mass strandings, along with public expectations and the ability to learn more about a species.
It would have been a “hugely stressful” experience for the whales that were freed, he said, but past events showed they were likely to thrive in the wild.
“We have shown fairly conclusively that animals will regroup, they will reform those social bonds, and they will — at least in the short- to medium-term for the duration that they’ve been tracked — demonstrate normal and natural behavior,” Carlyon said.
Officials will now turn their attention to the disposal of the whale carcasses, with assessors arriving onsite Wednesday to create a clean-up plan.
“As time goes on (the whales) do become more fatigued so their chances of survival reduces,” Deka said.
“But we’ll keep working as long as there’s live animals at the site.”
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MACQUARIE GROUP


Afghan vice president vows ‘no mercy’ in violent crime fight

Updated 10 min 54 sec ago

Afghan vice president vows ‘no mercy’ in violent crime fight

  • Former spy chief leads campaign after thefts, abductions sweep capital

KABUL: A security campaign spearheaded by Afghanistan Vice President Amrullah Saleh has been launched in Kabul following an outcry among residents over a recent surge in violent crime.

Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Aryan said a mass manhunt began on Friday involving over 20,000 posters and photographs of hundreds of wanted criminals in the capital.

“These people have been involved in numerous crimes such as theft, armed robbery, abductions and killings and we are urging citizens to inform the police of their whereabouts,” he told Arab News.

Aryan said that Saleh’s extensive security experience as the country’s former spy chief will help him bring the situation under control.

When he assumed the new role last week, Saleh said in a Facebook post that he would take responsibility for security in the city and would show “no mercy” to criminals.

The vice president’s new security role comes after the Taliban distributed leaflets in parts of Kabul, promising citizens that they would patrol and arrest criminals, and sentence them in their own courts.

The recent spike in crime has also pushed residents to launch a social media campaign using the hashtag #Kabulisnotsafe. Some demanded severe punishment, such as dismemberment for robbery, which was imposed under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 and led to a fall in crime figures.

Fawzia Nasiryar, a lawmaker from Kabul, said she and other legislators have received complaints from constituents over surging crime. Muggings and violent robberies even occur in broad daylight, she added.

Several attacks have led to deaths, she said.

Criminals have also targeted vulnerable groups, including children. Earlier this month thieves entered a high school to rob students, Nasiryar said.

“We hope that the vice president’s efforts will produce results and we witness a drop in the number of crimes,” she told Arab News, but added that it will be difficult to keep crime at bay when the war-torn country’s economy is so poor.

“As long as the economy is bad and there is joblessness, we won’t see improvement in the situation. Sadly, in a society where one person is rich out of 100 people, you will naturally see a rise in crimes.”

However, the increasing crime rate has also disrupted economic activity.

Jan Aqa Naweed, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Chambers of Commerce, told Arab News that surging crime in recent years has prompted hundreds of Afghan businessmen to leave the country, taking their capital and investments with them.

Some analysts argue that the vice president’s intervention is a mere public relations effort and will fail to achieve a lasting impact.

Wahidullah Ghazikhail said the security campaign only seeks to address public anger.

“This will have a temporary impact and is aimed at calming down the anger and sentiments of people,” he said.