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Whale Deaths on the West Coast

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 24 September 2020

Tags: Environment, Native Wildlife

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Motion) - Madam Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: whale deaths on the west coast.

I rise today with a heavy heart to mark the deaths of more than 360 long-finned pilot whales. These great sentient beings struggled and fought for their lives after stranding themselves on the west coast. I also rise to give voice the deep sadness and grief that has flowed forth in the community, being expressed not just by Tasmanians but by people across Australia and around the world, who have watched on with great sadness at the rescue efforts and the footage we have seen for the last couple of days of this enormous stranding.

We first heard of some 270 whales being stranded three days ago on Monday morning and it was terribly sad news that was coming out slowly from the west coast, but that was then followed up by another really sad report. It was reported as 200 whales but we now understand from the minister 195 whales had stranded themselves at Liberty and Betsy's Bay just south of Macquarie Harbour. Those 195 pilot whales it seems have all died.

What we know is that some 450 pilot whales stranded themselves and of these, 230 were at Fraser Flats and 25 at Ocean Beach. It seems with great effort and so much love and tireless work, 70 whales have successfully been moved and relocated back to the ocean. There are 20 more still there today that rescuers are focusing their efforts on to see if they can help them survive.

This largest stranding of long-finned pilot whales is really tragic to see. It is probably the largest in Australia and one of the largest in the world. Whales strand from time to time and as Helen Kempton wrote in the Mercury this morning, the sad thing is that we do not know why it happens but we know that the animals' very social nature means that of the 70 whales that are freed, some of them will return to their distressed pods and be stranded again rather than abandon their family.

Whales are highly sociable animals and they remain with their birth pod throughout their whole lifetime. Pilot whales can live for 45 years if they are males and 60 years if they are females. They have calves every three to five years and the calves take milk for up to 15 years. It is an incredibly intimate relationship between the mother and the baby. Their strong family and kinship bond is a main reason that scientists speculate that they strand. If one of them beaches themselves, they hear distress calls and the rest of the pod will try to find them and often be led to their deaths. The sounds they make and call out to each other are heartbreaking for humans who are watching hopelessly from the sidelines, because they are so human-sounding and very piercing and tragic.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank and acknowledge all the people who have spent so much time doing everything they can to rescue those animals. The things they have said should be read into the House because they have been there in the freezing waters for days, and the pictures I have seen of men and women standing around in wetsuits with beanies on in the water, as someone who lives in Tasmania who knows what those western waters are like, they are nearly hypothermic, so people have been in there for days doing incredibly hard work. I thank the Parks and Wildlife Service staff; the Marine Conservation Program staff; Dr Chris Carlyon, the wildlife biologist who spoke so beautifully to Lucy Breaden on the ABC the other day; Nic Deka, who has managed the operation; Tasmania Police who have been there organising rescuers; surf lifesaving clubs; and Petuna, Tassal and Huon Aquaculture staff who have lent their expertise and boats, but as one Petuna staff person said, the hardest work has been done by the people in the water, the people on rescue boats and the people on the sand covering up whales while they die. It has been very difficult for them to go through that experience but they continue at it.

I also pay my respects and gratitude to the journalists who have been on the ground, the ABC's Edith Bevin and Manika Champ who have provided us with as much information as they can; Helen Kempton from the Mercury; Sarah Maunder from SBS, and my apologies to other people if I have missed them out. I am sure I have because the information is coming from a place so beautiful and so wild.