South Australian/Tasmanian Stranding Event

20 November, 2003

A beaked whale is found stranded in Australia; reports of a second nearby.

The whale was tentatively identified as a strap-tooth or grazed-back beaked whale. While the whale "washed up in a rugged, isolated area and will not be recovered," the head will likely be removed to better determine the species. The whale was very decomposed and thus it was not likely it had died recently.

"Ceduna-based NPWS officer Brett Dalzell said another report of a whale carcass washed ashore at Sheringa Beach, near Elliston, was still being investigated."

Stranding date approx. 13th November.

Elliston and Streaky Bay are roughly 70-100 km (40-60 miles) apart.

Streaky Bay, SA.
Ellison, SA.

News Story

Surfers warned of shark danger

by Nigel Hunt

20 November, 2003

SHARK warnings have been issued to surfers at several well-known locations on the West Coast of the state after a whale carcass was found stranded.

The carcass of a 5m beaked whale was washed ashore at High Cliff, near Streaky Bay, and is expected to attract white pointer sharks as blood, oil and offal is washed into the sea during decomposition.
"The whale is in a fairly advanced state of decomposition, so we don't believe it has died recently," Primary Industries and Resources South Australia Fishwatch manager of disaster response Helen Croft said.

Tasmanian Environment Minister Bryan Green told that 110 short-finned pilot whales and 10 dolphins had been found dead on the beach of Point Hibbs in the south of a village named Strahan, 200 km west from Hobart.

David Pemberton, scientist of the tasmanian museum,,explains that they could have been pushed on the beach by orcas or maybe they have followed fishes or squids and then they stranded.

Just days later over one hundred whales are found dead on Tasmania's west coast.

As dolphins were involved as well as whales it was suggested that "When it's a mixed stranding like this, you start to get suspicious about external factors,"

Stranding date approx. Friday, 21st November.

Strahan-Hibbs Bay, Tasmania


News Story

110 whales found dead

HOBART, 25 November, 2003 - More than 100 pilot whales and 10 dolphins have died in a mysterious mass beaching on the coast of Australia's island state of Tasmania, local officials said on Tuesday (18th November).

Tasmanian Environment Minister Bryan Green told parliament the carcasses of the ocean mammals had been found on Monday (24th November) by an abalone diver on a remote peninsula off the state's southwest coast called Point Hibbs.

Experts who flew to the site on Tuesday said they counted 110 long-finned pilot whales and 10 bottle-nosed dolphins, all apparently dead for several days.

David Pemberton, the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Tasmanian Museum who spoke with scientists at the beaching site, said the fact that both whales and dolphins were involved implied they became stranded while fleeing an attacker or during a "feeding frenzy".

"When it's a mixed stranding like this, you start to get suspicious about external factors," Pemberton said.

He suggested the whales and dolphins had been involved in a "frenetic feeding frenzy" that took them too close to shore or had been driven to the beach by killer whales or other predators.

Scientists from the state environment department and the museum were investigating the incident, officials said.

"This type of event is always the cause of much sadness," Green told parliament.

While predominantly a deep ocean species, pilot whales will enter coastal and shallow waters in search of food and are regularly involved in beaching incidents, sometimes involving hundreds of animals.

26 November, 2003

Experts study bite marks on Tasmanian beached whales

Scientists say teeth marks found on some dead pilot whales beached on Tasmania's west coast may shed some light on why they died.

Government scientist Aleks Terauds says it is not clear whether killer whales or sharks may have been responsible for the deaths of about 110 whales which beached on a remote location south of Strahan.

The pilot whales and 20 bottlenose dolphins were discovered by an abalone diver this week.

Dr Terauds says fish experts may help discover how the whales were beached.
"We found a couple of interesting bites towards the end of yesterday so we'll take those to some fish experts, shark experts, who have a bit more of an idea what bites look like," he said.

"But certainly ... there was some sort of interaction with a few animals at least.
"But most of the other animals ... didn't have any major injuries so ... we're still sort of thinking about it and trying to work out what went on."

A dolphin is found stranded at Port Bonython.

Stranding date 25th November.

News Story

Dolphin rescued

Friday, 28 November 2003

Santos workers rescued a dolphin beached at Port Bonython on Tuesday afternoon (25th November). A crane driver discovered the adult dolphin at 1.30pm Tuesday.

Rescue efforts began by digging a hole for the dolphin so that it could submerge into some water.

The dolphin had been beached for some time, according to Santos fire safety advisor Rodney Cripps, because it had blisters on its back from sunburn.

Rescuers covered the dolphin with a hessian bag to protect it from the sun and carried it around 400 metres out to water to set it free.

It took eight men to carry it, with Mr Cripps estimating its weight at around 160-200 kilograms.

Marine Biologist Jan Aldenhoven said that because a dolphin's skin is very sensitive, it may develop scars from the blisters, but it would recover.

She said it is not known why dolphins beach themselves, whether it was being chased by a predator, was sick or frightened, it is too hard to determine.

Mr Cripps suggested that perhaps the dolphin had been chasing fish and got caught when the tide went out, as it was still in a small pool of water when they found it.

After slowly swimming off, the dolphin returned "as if to say thanks" to the workers, and then swum away. Mr Cripps said it left the men with a "warm fuzzy feeling".

"It just shows that Santos really cares about the environment," Mr Cripps said.

Port Bonython, SA.

Port Bonython, SA.

Next, 10 Sperm whales strand on Flinders Island.

Stranding date approx. 28th November.

Whitemark, Flinders Is.


News Story

Whale stranding on Flinders Island

November 29, 2003

TASMANIAN wildlife officers are fighting to save the life of a sperm whale stranded on Flinders Island.

The whale is the sole survivor from a group of 10 which became stranded at Arthurs Bay near Whitemark on the island off the north-east tip of Tasmania yesterday (28th November).

A team from the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries arrived at the bay last night and found nine of the whales dead and only one alive.

Department spokesman Warwick Brennan said the government's whale rescue team flew in last night and would concentrate on saving the whale today.

The seven to eight metre whale was in shallow water about 200 metres offshore and had responded to an inspection team which arrived by boat to assess its condition, which was a good sign, he said.

"The whale rescue team is hoping if they get it into deeper water it'll be ok," Mr Brennan said.
"They're trying to get something like a net underneath it so they can lift it and move it into deeper water.

"Problem is it's low tide at the moment, but it'll be high tide about 3pm (AEDT)."

The stranding is the second in Tasmania in a week.

The bodies of 110 long-finned pilot whales and 20 dolphins were found on a remote beach south of Strahan, on the island's south-west coast, on Tuesday.

A search for acoustic events prior to the first stranding (as biologists have said the whales had been dead for around 10 days before being discovered) revealed an article from 10th November, in which government officials observed a right whale "lunging and slapping its tail" during a seismic test off the coast of Warrnambool, Australia.

The energy company in charge of the tests denied that the tests harmed the whale, and continued to conduct the seismic operation, stating that the whale never came within 10km of the tests.

From the wording of the article, it looks as if the testing was done the week of 2nd November.

What's interesting is to note the proximity of Warrnambool to the coast of Tasmania where the whales stranded.

It's a good couple of hundred kilometers (or less depending on where the tests were done), but it's open water.

The hypothetically-ensonified cetaceans could have wandered for a few days (all the while being susceptible to predators...) and ended up on the beach. The timing of the tests is rather coincidental.

News Story

Woodside claims whale safe from seismic work

Monday, 10 November 2003

Woodside Energy says it is confident its off-shore seismic survey work did not distress a southern right whale spotted near Warrnambool, western Victoria, last week.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) notified Woodside that the whale was in the area where the seismic work was being carried out.

DSE flora and fauna officer Mandy Watson says the whale was lunging and slapping its tail, but it is unknown if its behaviour was caused by the seismic survey.

Woodside's senior geophysicist, Mark Taylor, says the survey boat was continuing using its airguns along the traverse it was working on, before it stopped operating.

"We felt that the most prudent thing was to continue with normal operations knowing that the vessel was unlikely to get within a distance of about 10 kilometres of the whale," he said.

"The Environment Australia guidelines require seismic operations to cease within three kilometres of a whale, and at no time were we operating the air gun array within a distance of 10 kilometres of the whale."

2003 ABC


Roy Legaard jr email - Stranding Database

Stop LFAS Discussion Group - Link

Warrnambool Standard newspaper - Link

Seismic test plans anger

September 10, 2003 - ANGRY south-west fishing industry representatives last night challenged gas exploration experts at a heated meeting in Port Campbell to prove seismic testing would not jeopardise marine life.

More than 35 people from a variety of interest groups attended the forum organised by Woodside Energy in a bid to allay fears and inform residents of its plans to hunt for gas deposits along the south-west coastline.

The forum was told air guns would be discharged under water as close as 900 metres to shore every eight seconds, creating a noise slightly softer than lightning striking the sea surface. But the project's environmental adviser Peter Farrell was quick to stress seismic testing would not kill marine life, threaten whales and abalone divers in the area or cause damage to the sea bed.

"We are not making explosions here and we are not sneaking up behind the fish...there will be plenty of warning and as instinct they will get out of the way," he said.

Concerned fisherman Chris Loving attacked the lack of consultation Woodside had given local fishermen over the issue and raised concerns for diver safety. "So if a diver is in the area is he going to get his head blown off by one of these things?" he said. Woodside operations co-ordinator Mark Taylor said divers would be notified of a 1500-metre exclusion zone during seismic activity.

Experts also said if whales were spotted three kilometres from the seismic testing vessel, air guns would not be fired until the mammals were out of sight. Mr Taylor said the company had no plans to undertake testing near the Logans Beach whale nursery and any future exploration wells were likely to be dug onshore.

Fishermen claimed they had been misled by Woodside into thinking the company already had a permit for the seismic testing. They also attacked 30-year-old research on the effect seismic testing had on fish types.

Port Campbell Professional Fishermen's Assocation spokesperson Antionette Hanna has requested a copy of Woodside's environmental management plan in an attempt to analyse the testing further.

Greens Party representative Gillian Blair claimed residents who put their head under the water in Warnambool's Lady Bay would feel the seismic activity from as far away as the Bay of Islands. Woodside hopes to start testing in October.

Copyright 2003 Warrnambool Standard

Concern over search for treasures under the sea

September 27, 2003 - Experts fear use of seismic surveys in the hunt for gas along Victoria's scenic south-west coast could devastate marine life, writes Melissa Fyfe.

What do you think of when looking at the 12 Apostles? Their eerie beauty is probably the first thing that springs to mind.

If you are an environmentalist, you may be thinking of what lies beneath the rocky pillars: the 12 Apostles Marine National Park, a hard-fought-for sanctuary for all sorts of creatures in an undersea landscape just as dramatic as the Apostles themselves.

But if you were a multi-national energy company you might be thinking of money - oceans of the stuff. From the 12 Apostles down the coast to Warrnambool the hunt is on to find and tap gas along the shallow reef system.

To the outrage of environmentalists and Port Campbell abalone and lobster fishermen, two companies - Woodside and Benaris Energy - have applied to the State Government to do seismic surveys along this stretch of coast. Benaris Energy's application covers most of the 12 Apostles Marine National Park.

Energy companies use seismic surveys instead of more expensive drilling to map what resource may be trapped under the seabed.

This is done from a boat with airguns trailing behind. The energy from these guns - which make frequent intense noise of more than 200 decibels - penetrates the seabed.

How does marine life cope with the noise? The only thing environmentalists and the industry agree on is that many organisms can die if they are within five metres of the sound source. Other than that, experts admit we don't really know the effect on underwater life, and no studies have been done on the impact of seismic surveys in shallow water.

Australia's leading expert, Curtin University of Technology's marine bio-acoustician Dr Rob McCauley, said environmentalists and fishermen had a real cause for concern. "There's unknowns . . . without proper assessment, we don't know what the real risk is," he said.

The little research available is often funded by the petroleum, oil and gas industry. Dr McCauley's studies are also part-funded by industry, but he is unfussed by this. "Industry funding the work is the only way that it is going to happen," he says. "They put no caveats on what we do or say."

In fact, Dr McCauley's research, released earlier this year, was grasped by environmentalists as proof that seismic testing does harm fish. It found it caused tremendous damage to fish hearing and severe behavioural reactions. But it is all in the interpretation. The fish tested were caged and unable to escape the sound.

But Dr McCauley said that more territorial fish live on reef systems - like the survey sites - and are less likely to swim away from the noise source. He is also concerned that the significant penguin colony in the area feeds on more mobile fish and when those fish swim away, the penguins will have nothing to eat and may be unable to reproduce.

Calling for a moratorium on seismic surveys, the Victorian National Parks Association and the Australian Conservation Foundation see this as a key test for Environment Minister John Thwaites. A decision is due in the next few weeks.

Copyright 2003. The Age Company Ltd

Crown of Thorns topples from rocky throne


PETERBOROUGH, Vic., 15 November, 2003 - A WELL-KNOWN rock formation has collapsed near Peterborough leaving some members of the community blaming seismic testing by a petroleum company.

The Crown of Thorns rock formation, located two kilometres east of Peterborough at Newfield Beach, about 70km south-east of Warrnambool, is believed to have toppled from its resting place late last week.

The rock, which has appeared on postcards promoting the Great Ocean Road, was named after its similarity to the Crown of Thorns starfish.

Long-time Peterborough resident Wendy Kerr has suggested that recent seismic testing which had been conducted by Woodside Energy off the coast of Peterborough, could have caused the rock formation to topple.

Woodside Energy and a Parks Victoria spokesperson have dismissed the claims as very unlikely, saying that natural erosion would have caused the rock to fall.

"We're all putting it down to seismic testing ....I think the seismic boat was a lot closer than it should have been," Mrs Kerr said.

"It (the vessel) was meant to be about 1.6km off shore, but it was a lot closer than that. The other night when I was walking around the golf course I reckon I could have hit a golfball on it."

"The Woodside seismic vessel was here for a good two weeks and a lot of local people who live in Peterborough commented that their houses were shaking every time it went past," Mrs Kerr said.

Woodside Energy geophysicist Mark Taylor said yesterday that seismic testing wouldn't have caused the rock to fall.

"There is basically a zero likelihood for anything like the seismic survey to have an impact," Mr Taylor said.

"The seismic survey doesn't have the capacity to impact on any coastline feature."

He said the seismic survey didn't get within three kilometres of the Crown of Thorns.

After inspecting the area last night, Parks Victoria Shipwreck Coast chief ranger John McInerney said it was highly unlikely that seismic testing would be responsible for the rock's collapse.

"The impact of seismic testing would have a minuscule impact on geological processes compared with wind and wave energy," Mr McInerney said.

"Wind and wave energy is the paramount factor in coastline erosion."

"The Crown of Thorns is subject to the normal coastal processes and I would suggest it's the reason it's gone is it's a high energy coastline."

Mrs Kerr called for a ban on further seismic testing in the area yesterday.

"Peterborough is a very well used recreational fishing area and you just don't know what it (seismic testing) is doing; it's a very fragile coastline and if this is going to be the result then take it away,'' she said.

Woodside Energy conducted seismic testing off the south-west coast from October 24 until November 11.

Copyright 2003 Warrnambool Standard

Woodside Energy

Rescue helicopter deal proposed with Woodside Energy


December 27, 2003

THE campaign for an emergency helicopter in south-west Victoria has reached a $61 million breakthrough with the help of a gas exploration giant.

But the venture faces several hurdles, including Woodside receiving approval for its multi-million-dollar project in the Otway Basin and a funding commitment from the State Government.

Mr Robinson said Woodside would need two heavy-lift helicopters for off-shore gas work in 2005 which would be on offer for search and rescue operations.

Under the proposal a new helicopter complete with mica-ambulance equipment would be purchased in 2006 for searches and rescues. It would feature off-shore equipment for both emergencies and Woodside gas operations.

Mr Robinson was confident the deal would go ahead, saying it was an offer the Government would find too good to refuse.

Mr Robinson said the community would be asked to donate to the construction of a full-time helicopter base at the Warrnambool aerodrome once the project received the official green light.

Ms Grubisa said Woodside was in the process of developing its Geographe and Thylacine gas discoveries off the coast of Port Campbell.

Copyright 2003 Warrnambool Standard

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