Tracking shows success of refloating whales

Five small satellite tags have been deployed on refloated long-finned pilot whales while Marine Conservation Program wildlife biologists were responding to a large mass stranding near Strahan in September 2022.

Wildlife biologist Dr Kris Carlyon said the satellite tags help to assess post-release survival and behaviour by regularly recording a whale’s location and uploading the information to a satellite network that can be viewed in near-real time following deployment. 

“While three tagged whales unfortunately re-stranded in challenging conditions on Ocean Beach and did not survive, satellite data from two individuals showed these two animals survived after being refloated following more than 24 hours stranded onshore,” Dr Carlyon said. 

“These two tags transmitted for periods of 17 and 21 days respectively, consistent with our expectations of battery life, and showed both animals travelling into waters more than 300km south of Tasmania.”

The tracks of both whales appear to show a distinct phase of rapid travel away from the stranding location followed by slower movement indicative of typical foraging behaviour. 

“The data gathered is extremely valuable in validating the refloating methods used during the response and the significant effort and resourcing put into refloating stranded whales by the Department, industry and local community,” Dr Carlyon said. 

Analysis of the tracking information is ongoing, and the Marine Conservation Program aims to deploy further devices on stranded animals at future stranding events to help inform and refine response procedures.​