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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

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Marion Bay Whale Stranding

Incident Review Findings
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 1 December 2005

Between the 25th and 27th of October 2005, 145 long-finned pilot whales stranded and died in a series of three stranding events in the Marion Bay region in the Southeast of Tasmania. 19 whales were successfully returned to the sea. Mass strandings of this species in this area are not uncommon, occurring seven times over the previous 50 years, most recently in 1998. At the time of this latest stranding event, two Royal Australian Navy mine-hunting vessels were conducting a search in the Marion Bay region using high-frequency sonar in an attempt to locate an historic anchor.

High-power, mid-frequency active sonar has been associated internationally with some stranding events. The high-frequency sonar used by the Navy on this occasion was of an entirely different type that has not previously been implicated in a stranding event. This sonar operates at frequencies from 30-500 kHz and has similar frequencies and power output to those used in some commercial applications such as echo-sounders, fish-finding sonar and hydrographic survey.

The Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) convened a Stranding Incident Review Panel to examine the circumstances of this stranding event and determine what effect, if any, the presence of two Royal Australian Navy ships had on the event. The panel membership included whale and acoustic experts, non-government conservation groups, the Tasmanian Environment Department and the Australian Government Department of Defence.

The terms of reference for the panel were:

  1. Examine the likelihood, nature and extent of any interaction that may have occurred between the stranding events on 25-27 October 2005 at Marion Bay, Tasmania and the Naval activities in the area and document any findings on the likely cause or factors contributing to the events at the time.
  2. Make recommendations, if considered appropriate and necessary, on ways of improving communication and coordination between state and Commonwealth agencies and maritime industries/operations that may be associated in time and location with a stranding event.

The panel met in Hobart on 23 November 2005 and examined the available information relevant to the stranding and the presence of the Navy Ships. After reviewing this information, the Panel made the following conclusions and recommendations:

Attendees:
Name / Title Organisation
Mike Pemberton – Branch Manager Tasmanian Environment Department
Rosemary Gales – Biodiversity Conservation Branch Tasmanian Environment Department
Andrew Irvine – Biodiversity Conservation Branch Tasmanian Environment Department
Warwick Brennan – Corporate Affairs. Tasmanian Environment Department
Nick Gales – Principal Research Scientist DEH – Australian Antarctic Division
Jason Gedamke – Research Scientist DEH – Australian Antarctic Division
Sarah Robinson – Research Assistant DEH – Australian Antarctic Division
Tom Kaveney, Director, Ports and Marine Section DEH – Approvals and Wildlife Division
Mike Noad – Marine Bioacoustics specialist University of Queensland
Doug Cato – Marine Bioacoustics specialist Defence Science and Technology Organisation
Steve Cole – RAN Environment Manager Department of Defence, Navy
Colin Trinder – Environmental Stewardship Department of Defence
Andrew Mackinnon – Navy Basing & Environmental Policy Department of Defence, Navy
CPO James Reardon Department of Defence, Navy
Mike Bossley – Conservation and Education Manager Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society - Australasia
Darren Kindleysides – Campaign Officer International Fund for Animal Welfare – Asia Pacific