January 22, 2009 / 11:54 PM / 10 years ago

Fifty whales beach in Australia, only two survive

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A pod of 50 sperm whales beached themselves on Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania overnight, but only two of the whales survived, wildlife officials said Friday.

The whales beached at Perkins Island just off Tasmania’s northwest tip and wildlife officials said it was difficult for rescuers to reach the pod due to their location, which is only accessible by boat, and the high tide.

“It’s going to be difficult to get to them because they are big animals, up to 18 meters (54 feet) for males ... and they are actually located on an island off the coast,” a Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Services spokeswoman told local media.

At least 150 long-finned pilot whales died in a mass stranding off Tasmania’s west coast last November. Pilot whales are among the smaller whales, typically up to about 5 meters (16 feet) in length and dark with a grey underbelly.

Mass strandings of whales occur periodically in Australia and New Zealand for reasons that are not entirely understood. Theories include disturbance of echo-location, possibly by interference from sound produced by human activities at sea.

Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson

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