'It is the feeling of hopelessness that is the hardest. Of not being able to save them or at least put them out of their misery,' writes HELEN KEMPTON
'It is the feeling of hopelessness that is the hardest. Of not being able to save them or at least put them out of their misery,' writes HELEN KEMPTON

Anyone saying ‘it’s just nature’ did not hear their cries

OPINION

THE sights and sounds connected with the whale emergency unfolding on Tasmania's beautiful west coast are hard to describe and forget.

The sight of hundreds of majestic animals flailing about in shallow water as others die around them is heartbreaking to watch.

The jaw-droppingly beautiful scenic backdrop makes it even harder, somehow.

This is not the kind of whale watching I had dreamed of.

Watching the level of distressed activity die down as the poor animals become exhausted and give up or slowly suffocate is traumatic.

Rescuers from a range of organisations work to save some of the 470 pilot whales that became stranded in Macquarie Harbour at Strahan. Day 3. September 23, 2020. Picture: PATRICK GEE
Rescuers from a range of organisations work to save some of the 470 pilot whales that became stranded in Macquarie Harbour at Strahan. Day 3. September 23, 2020. Picture: PATRICK GEE

The sounds they make as they call out to each other - and perhaps to us humans watching hopelessly from the shore - are piercing and tragic.

When I arrived at Macquarie Heads on Monday afternoon the whales were making a real din and splashing their tails in the shallow water.

By Tuesday morning things were much quieter. About 90 were dead and others had all but given up the fight to live.

Rescuers made their way out to those they hoped could be saved and the massive animals laid almost compliant as they slid slings under their bodies.

I decided to walk the 2km from the Macquarie Heads Campground around to Ocean Beach where a small pod of about 30 whales were washed up on the sand, no longer fighting for survival.

A Parks and Wildlife boat assessed the situation on Wednesday morning. Picture: PATRICK GEE
A Parks and Wildlife boat assessed the situation on Wednesday morning. Picture: PATRICK GEE

As the caretaker of the campground said: "It is the feeling of hopelessness that is the hardest. Of not being able to save them or at least put them out of their misery".

"There were still two alive when I went out there. If I'd had a rifle I would have shot them. They were on their last legs and really suffering," he said.

Upon arriving at Ocean Beach I was first struck by the beauty of this stretch of remote coastline.

No-one else was around and the sand stretched for miles. Macquarie Heads and the Gordon River were in eyesight and birds of all types bobbed along the shore.

Then I noticed several big, desolate shapes on the sand.

Lapping at their motionless bodies was the same water that had brought them into Macquarie Harbour and away from the deep oceans they need to survive.

Four pilot whales, about three metres long, lay on the beach in front of me.

They were dead but were still complete - glossy black animals with still-bright eyes and very white teeth.

I touched one and it felt like fine leather. I said 'sorry' to the whale and walked up to the others.

The saddest things about whale strandings are - we don't know why they happen and the animals' very social nature means freed whales will often return to their distressed pod - and get stranded again, rather than abandon their family.

One thing is for sure, if we humans can work out why they strand and how to prevent it happening in the future no amount of time or money is too much to save these wonderful beings.

helen.kempton@news.com.au

Originally published as Anyone saying 'it's just nature' did not hear their cries


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