Australia: Stranded whales put down by vet

29th Jul 2002 Story:www.themercury.news.com.au

An overnight vigil with eight stranded false killer whales on the West Australian south coast has ended in tragedy for the animals with the survivors put down.

Local fisherman came across 58 whales stranded at Tooregullup Beach, about 180km east of Albany, late yesterday afternoon, said WA Conservation and Land Management (CALM) department executive director Keiran McNamara.

The fishermen managed to return six of the whales to the water but 44 of the animals had already died, Mr McNamara said.

Rescue attempts had been hampered because of the sighting of a white pointer shark in the area.

The waters off the beach were also a breeding ground for bronze whaler sharks, he said.

Wildlife officers and a vet from Albany tried to stabilise the eight animals remaining on the beach overnight and planned to rescue them in the morning.

However, by first light two further animals had died with the rest extremely weak and distressed.

The most humane action had been to euthanase the whales, Mr McNamara said.

"The decision to call off rescue attempts is not taken lightly," he said in a statement.

"It is a hard call and is only made after every possible avenue of success has been explored."

Samples from the animals had been taken for a post mortem.

Very soft sand and a rising tide were preventing a machine coming in to move the 52 whale bodies which were now stuck on the beach, a CALM spokesman said.

However, an air survey of the area about 100km either side of the beach revealed no evidence of further strandings, the spokesman said.

False killer whales are between 4.5 and 5.5 metres long and can weigh around one tonne.

Found worldwide in tropical and temperate waters, they favour deep water but occasionally come close to the beach.