100 Whales Gather in Mysterious Heart Shape, Baffling Experts
What started out as awe-inspiring turned deadly.
Researchers have been studying whales for thousands of years. However, there is still a lot that isn't understood about the massive mammals. This week, what started out as a mysterious but awe-inspiring movement demonstrated by a pod of 100 whales turned devastatingly deadly. The group of pod whales gathered in a circle, line, and heart shape, before beaching themselves nearby.
Locals in Western Australia watched as the group of whales huddled together for a full day in the shallow waters off a remote beach. While it was thrilling at first, the worst fears of authorities and researchers were confirmed when the whales started beaching.
Kate Sprogis, a marine mammal ecologist at the University of Western Australia, called the behavior "really unusual" and worrisome. "Healthy pilot whales don't generally behave like this, and when you see it, you think there's something odd going on," she said.
On Tuesday, the pod started rushing to the shore, stranding themselves on Cheynes Beach near Albany, in southern Western Australia. Rescuers rushed to the scene but had a lot working against them.
When pilot whales, which can weigh up to 6,600 pounds, get out of the water, their organs can be crushed by their own weight – which is what started happening as soon as the whales beached themselves.
By Wednesday 52 whales had died. The remaining 45 were guided back into the water. However, despite efforts, the whales re-stranded themselves further along the beach, which is something they are prone to doing.
Officials were eventually forced to euthanize the surviving whales. Peter Hartley, of the Parks and Wildlife Service of Western Australia, said on Thursday that it was "one of the hardest decisions in my 34 years in wildlife management."
If the whales had been released as a group, and those who were weak or hadn't fully recovered were in the group, "we stand the risk that that will drag the other animals back to the beach," he said.