Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania via AP
CANBERRA, Australia — Australian wildlife authorities are investigating the deaths of 14 juvenile sperm whales found on an island off the southeast coast, officials said Tuesday.
The whales were discovered Monday afternoon on King Island, part of the state of Tasmania in the Bass Strait between Melbourne and Tasmania’s north coast, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment said in a statement.
A team from the government’s Marine Conservation Program traveled to the island on Tuesday and performed autopsies on the whales to try to determine their cause of death.
Photos distributed by the department showed whales lying on their sides in shallow water on the island’s rocky shore.
Authorities planned to conduct an aerial survey to determine if there were any other whales in the area.
The department said it is not uncommon for sperm whales to be sighted in Tasmania and the area where they were discovered on the beach was within their normal range and habitat.
“While further research needs to be done, it’s possible that the whales were part of the same bachelor group — a group of younger male sperm whales that interacted after they left the mother group,” the environmental department said.
Meanwhile, surfers and swimmers were warned to avoid the immediate area in case the whales’ corpses lure sharks to nearby waters.
Two years ago, about 470 long-finned pilot whales were found on sandbars off the west coast of Tasmania in Australia’s largest-ever mass stranding.
After a week’s effort, 111 of those whales were rescued, but the rest died.