Australia plans disposal of hundreds of stranded whale carcasses

Australia plans disposal of hundreds of stranded whale carcasses
A pilot whale, one of at least 380 stranded that have died, is seen washed up in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania's west coast on September 24, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 September 2020

Australia plans disposal of hundreds of stranded whale carcasses

Australia plans disposal of hundreds of stranded whale carcasses
  • Rescuers had managed to free around 70 of the long-finned pilot whales beached off the country’s remote southern coast
  • A rescue team of more than 60 government scientists and volunteers had dashed to the remote location

SYDNEY: Australian officials on Thursday began planning the grim task of disposing of almost 400 whale carcasses as hopes faded there would be many more survivors of one of the world’s biggest mass strandings of the mammals.
Rescuers had managed to free around 70 of the long-finned pilot whales beached off the country’s remote southern coast by Thursday afternoon. The majority of those freed had reached deeper water, officials said, but four were likely to be euthanized and others might return when the tide turns.
The clock was ticking for the remaining 20 whales still floundering in shallow water on a wide sandbank, four days after the 470-strong pod was first spotted off the northwest coast of the island state of Tasmania.
“Beyond the next 24 hours, any remaining animals that are alive will be less viable,” said Nic Deka, the incident controller for the state government’s Parks and Wildlife Service.
As result, authorities were developing a plan to dispose of at least 380 whales at sea, an operation that Deka said could take days.
“Our preference is for disposal at sea, we’re still taking expert advice as to exactly where the drop off point may be,” Deka said, noting the decomposing whales could pose an environmental health risk.
Marine biologists warned the task would be tricky.
“Dealing with over 400 dead whales is a real problem,” said Vanessa Pirotta, a marine scientist at the Macquarie University. “(It) would have to be very far out.”
The stranding, the biggest on record in modern Australia, has drawn attention to a natural phenomenon that remains largely a mystery to scientists.
A rescue team of more than 60 government scientists and volunteers had dashed to the remote location, braving freezing cold waters in an arduous refloating process. As many as four or five people per whale were needed to attach slings to the animals and guide them as they were pulled to deeper water by boats.


Olympic fans from aboard may have health tracked by app

Updated 02 December 2020

Olympic fans from aboard may have health tracked by app

Olympic fans from aboard may have health tracked by app
  • Japan has controlled the virus better than most countries with just over 2,100 deaths attributed to COVID-19
  • But Tokyo has seen record numbers of infections in recent weeks

TOKYO: A mobile app could be among the measures used to track the health of fans from abroad if they are permitted to attend next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
An interim report on contingencies for holding the Tokyo Games was released on Wednesday. It was compiled by the Japanese government, the Tokyo city government and local organizers.
The portion concerning the app was leaked earlier in the day by Japanese newspaper Nikkei. It was met on social media by unhappy replies from Japanese citizens who fear the Olympics could put their health in jeopardy.
Japan, with a population of 125 million, has controlled the virus better than most countries with just over 2,100 deaths attributed to COVID-19. But Tokyo has seen record numbers of infections in recent weeks.
Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the local organizing committee, explained some findings of the report. But he was short on specifics in the online briefing. Some proposals might be discarded as conditions change, and almost everything is subject to revision.
“In general, I think we would like to be able to work out the details by next spring,” he said, suggesting the groundwork had been prepared for many contingencies with the possibility of vaccines and rapid testing on the horizon.
It was in the spring eight months ago when organizers and the International Olympic Committee finally decided to postpone the Olympics after repeatedly saying they would go ahead this year.
Muto hinted again that the Tokyo Olympics may not be much fun. Athletes will compete and then be expected to to go home.
“The basic principle is that the accommodation period in the Athletes Village is supposed to be minimized as much as possible,” Muto said. “We want to be sure that the Athletes Village doesn’t get too dense. And after the games we would like them (athletes) to go back (home) as early as possible.”
He was asked point-blank if the Olympics would have a “celebratory atmosphere.”
“If the games are to be held under the COVID-19 pandemic, I don’t think the Olympics will be as festive as they have been in the past,” he said. “We decided to hold a simplified Olympics. Therefore, as you can see in the planning for the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Olympics will be simplified rather than celebratory.”
Muto was also asked about the cost of the one-year postponement, but said he didn’t know yet. Some Japanese newspapers reported several days ago, citing unnamed sources close to the organizing committee, that the cost of the delay will be about $3 billion.
“We are in the process of the calculation of how much the cost is,” Muto said. “We would like to reach a decision as soon as possible but when it will come — I can’t give you a specific date. But by the end of the year we’d like to make an effort to come up with an answer.”
He was also asked if fans from abroad would be required to be vaccinated.
“This is a scenario we will start to examine once the vaccine is actually available,” he said.