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Media Release
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

1 December 2005

Experts investigates whale strandings


Environment and Heritage Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, has today released the findings of a review of a stranding of 145 long-finned pilot whales at Marion Beach, Tasmania, in October this year.

The expert stranding incident review panel was commissioned by Senator Campbell because there were two Royal Australian naval mine-hunting vessels nearby at the time using high frequency sonar to find an historic anchor. Senator Campbell considered it important to evaluate the possible effects of sonar transmissions on the mammals.

The panel found the first stranding event on October 25 could not have been caused by sonar activities because it happened at least six hours before the Navy ships arrived in the region.

It also found that although it was not possible to conclude whether sonar transmissions had an influence on the second and third stranding events, it was highly unlikely to have had any effect.

The stranding incident review panel was made up of whale scientists and acoustic experts, Non-Government Organisations, staff from the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry, Water and Environment, Department of Defence (Navy) and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage.

The members were asked to examine the likelihood, nature and extent of any interaction that may have occurred between the stranding and the naval activities in the area and to recommend ways of improving communication and coordination between relevant government agencies and marine industries.

“Mass strandings of pilot whales in this area of South-East Tasmania are not uncommon, occurring seven times in the past 50 years, most recently in 1998,” Senator Campbell said.

“Indeed strandings occur all over the world and have done for centuries - even Aristotle, in his writings thousands of years ago, acknowledged the frequent, unexplained strandings, noting: “It is not known why they sometimes run aground on the seashore: for it is asserted that this happens rather frequently when the fancy takes them and without any apparent reason.

“While we still can’t be certain why, we can use this recent experience to improve communications and liaison between all parties in dealing with future strandings.

“It is an unfortunate fact that Marion Beach seems to be a hazardous place for pilot whales. The reasons for the strandings remain unclear but it seems they are likely to be related to such natural phenomena as the geography of the area, health of the animal or other oceanographic effects.”

Senator Campbell said the Government would consider convening similar panels to review incidents in the future.”

The panel’s findings are available at http://www.deh.gov.au/coasts/publications/marion-bay-strandings-2005.html

Media Contact:
Renae Stoikos 02 6277 7640 or 0418 568 434

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