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Hamelin Bay whale stranding update – 9.30am

Hamelin Bay whale stranding update – 9.30am

More than 150 short-finned pilot whales have stranded en masse at Hamelin Bay, 10km north of Augusta early this morning.

Around 75 whales have died after beaching themselves. Parks and Wildlife Service staff are onsite and veterinary assistance has been organised to assess the health and wellbeing of the remaining live whales - 50 of which are on the beach and 25 which are in the shallows. Support and equipment is being rushed to the scene to assist the rescue attempt to return the surviving whales to deeper water.

Incident controller Jeremy Chick said the main priorities were to ensure the welfare of the remaining live whales and the safety of everyone involved in the operation before any rescue attempt was made to herd the whales back out to sea.

“The strength of the animals and the windy and possibly wet weather conditions will affect when and where we attempt to move them out to sea,” he said.

"The main objectives are to ensure the safety of staff and volunteers as well as the whales' greatest chance of survival."

Mr Chick said the department was working with the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and Sea Search and Rescue. There are enough trained personnel and volunteers on site and people are asked to avoid the area.

Hamelin Beach is closed from Hamelin Caravan Park to North Point including Grace Road and Reserve Road. DPIRD has issued a shark alert for the area.

The largest mass stranding of whales in WA was in 1996 when 320 long-finned pilot whales stranded themselves in Dunsborough.

Short-finned pilot whales are closely related to long-finned pilot whales, although they have shorter flippers with less of an elbow.  They are brownish-grey to black, with a pinkish-grey anchor shape on the undersides. They have a bulbous forehead, but the flippers are less than 18 per cent of the body length. Females are about four metres long and males approximately 5.5 metres.

They inhabit tropical and subtropical waters and may be seen in the hundreds but groups usually number less than 100.  They often strand en masse. Nine shortfinned pilot whales were found dead after stranding at Albany’s Ledge Point in November 1984 and 38 short-finned pilot whales stranded in April 1991 at Sandy Point, north of Broome, but died within a few hours.