At least 380 whales dead in Australia mass stranding

A handout photo taken on September 22, 2020 and received on September 23 from Tasmania Police shows people helping a whale in Macquarie Harbour on the rugged west coast of Tasmania, as hundreds of pilot whales have died in a mass stranding in southern Australia despite efforts to save them, with rescuers racing to free a few dozen survivors. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 September 2020

At least 380 whales dead in Australia mass stranding

  • The rescuers have spent two days wading in the cold shallows to free the still living creatures
  • The whales have been found stranded up to 10 kilometers (six miles) apart

HOBART, Australia: At least 380 whales have died in a mass stranding in southern Australia, officials said Wednesday, with rescuers managing to free just a few dozen survivors.
Nearly the entire pod of 460 long-finned pilot whales stuck in Macquarie Harbor, on the rugged and sparsely populated west coast of Tasmania, has now perished.
“We have got a more accurate count and we can confirm that 380 whales are dead,” Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service manager Nic Deka said.
“There’s around 30 left still alive but the good news is that we have saved 50,” he said, describing the rescue effort as emotionally taxing.
The first of the giant mammals were found on Monday, sparking a major effort to free them from a sandbar only accessible by boat.
It is the largest mass stranding ever recorded in Tasmania, an island state off mainland Australia’s south coast, and likely the biggest in the country’s history.
A rescue crew of 60 conservationists, skilled volunteers and local fish farm workers has concentrated efforts on a group of whales partially submerged in the water.
The rescuers have spent two days wading in the cold shallows to free the still living creatures, using boats fitted with special slings to guide them back to the open ocean.
They are now racing to free as many of the 30 remaining live whales as possible.
“They’re focused on the job — it’s demanding work, some of them are up to their chest in cold water so we’re trying to rotate the crews,” Deka said.
“Its very draining physically. It’s also draining emotionally.”
The whales have been found stranded up to 10 kilometers (six miles) apart, and officials have now expanded their search area to see if more of the mammals are stuck nearby.
Some of the whales rescued Tuesday re-stranded overnight, in line with predictions by whale behavior experts, but Deka remained upbeat about the immediate prospects for those that remained in the ocean.
“The good news is the majority of whales that were rescued are still out in deep water and swimming,” he told reporters in the nearby town of Strahan.
“They haven’t stranded. So we’ve been more successful than not.”
The causes of mass strandings remain unknown — even to scientists who have been studying the phenomenon for decades.
However, some researchers have suggested the highly sociable pilot whales may have gone off track after feeding close to the shoreline or by following one or two whales that strayed.
Tasmanian environment department marine biologist Kris Carlyon said it was a “natural event” with strandings of the species occurring regularly throughout history in both southern Australian and neighboring New Zealand.
“We do step in and respond in these situations, but as far as being able to prevent these occurring in the future, there’s really little that we can do,” he said.
Carlyon said animal welfare issues were a major reason authorities and conservationists intervened in mass strandings, along with public expectations and the ability to learn more about a species.
It would have been a “hugely stressful” experience for the whales that were freed, he said, but past events showed they were likely to thrive in the wild.
“We have shown fairly conclusively that animals will regroup, they will reform those social bonds, and they will — at least in the short- to medium-term for the duration that they’ve been tracked — demonstrate normal and natural behavior,” Carlyon said.
Officials will now turn their attention to the disposal of the whale carcasses, with assessors arriving onsite Wednesday to create a clean-up plan.
“As time goes on (the whales) do become more fatigued so their chances of survival reduces,” Deka said.
“But we’ll keep working as long as there’s live animals at the site.”
hr/arb/je
MACQUARIE GROUP


French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

Updated 23 min 20 sec ago

French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

  • President Emmanuel Macron: Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country
  • French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom

PARIS: French police on Monday launched a series of raids targeting extremist networks three days after the beheading of a history teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

The operation came a day after tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide to honor history teacher Samuel Paty and defend freedom of expression.

Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin said “dozens” of individuals were being probed for suspected radicalization.

While they were “not necessarily linked” to Paty’s killing, the government aimed to send a message that there would be “not a minute’s respite for enemies of the Republic,” he added.

Darmanin said the government would also tighten the noose on NGOs with suspected links to extremist networks.

“Fear is about to change sides,” President Emmanuel Macron told a meeting of key ministers Sunday to discuss a response to the attack.

“Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country,” he said.

Paty, 47, was attacked on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Paris.

A photo of the teacher and a message confessing to his murder was found on the mobile phone of his killer, an 18-year-old Chechen man Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot dead by police.

The grisly killing has drawn parallels with the 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, where 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Paty had shown his civics class one of the controversial cartoons.

According to his school, Paty had given Muslim children the option to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoon in a lesson on free speech, saying he did not want their feelings hurt.

The lesson sparked a furor nonetheless and Paty and his school received threats.

Eleven people are being held over his murder, including a known radical and the father of one of Paty’s pupils, who had launched an online campaign against the teacher.

Darmanin accused the two men of having issued a “fatwa” against Paty, using the term for an edict that was famously used to describe the 1989 death sentence handed down against writer Salman Rushdie by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

Anzorov’s family arrived in France from the predominantly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya when he was six.

Locals in the Normandy town of Evreux where he lived described him as a loner who had become increasingly religious in recent years.

Police are trying to establish whether he acted alone.

Four members of his family are being held for questioning.

In scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, when over a million people marched through Paris to defend press freedom, people again gathered at the central Place de la Republique on Sunday to express their horror over Paty’s death.

Some in the crowd chanted “I am Samuel,” echoing the 2015 “I am Charlie” rallying call for free speech.

French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom.

The government has vowed to step up security at schools when pupils return after half-term.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who laid a wreath outside Paty’s school on Monday, called for “wartime legislation” to combat the terror threat.

Le Pen, who has announced she will make a third bid for the French presidency in 2022, called for an “immediate” moratorium on immigration and for all foreigners on terror watchlists to be deported.

Paty’s beheading was the second knife attack since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings.

The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the publication’s old office.