At least 135 short-finned pilot whales have died after they beached en mass on a beach on Australia’s west coast.
The migrating mammals became stranded on dry land overnight, with rescuers working to save a further 15 whales trapped in shallow waters in Hamelin Bay, 198 miles south of Perth.
While whales regularly get stranded on the coastal strip migrating between Antarctic feeding grounds in the south and warmer northern waters where they raise their young, the large number this time is unusual.
Melissa Lay, manager at the Hamelin Bay Holiday Park, said it was the second masse stranding she had witnessed during her 15 years in the area.
“There are some that are still alive but barely,” Lay said. “The last time it happened, none survived.”
Locals and tourists were being warned to stay out of the water due to a likely increase in sharks attracted by the dead whales.
People there for the peak salmon fishing season were also advised to stay out of the shallows.
“It is possible the dead and dying animals will act as an attractant, which could lead to sharks coming close into shore along this stretch of coast,” the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development said in a statement.
The largest mass stranding of whales in the state occurred in 1996 when 320 long-finned pilot whales stranded themselves just north of Hamelin Bay.
Short-finned pilot whales are dark-coloured with pinkish-grey undersides, travel in large numbers and often get stranded en masse, the department said.