pilot whales are stranded on a Western Australian beach
© DBCAPilot whales are stranded on a Western Australian beach
Some 160 long-finned whales have become stranded on the western Australian coast, with at least 26 confirmed dead.

Wildlife authorities have begun a rescue attempt after marine scientists and veterinarians reached the scene at Toby's Inlet near the tourist town of Dunsborough on Thursday. The stranded whales were from four pods spread across 1,640 feet of shore, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions said in a statement.

An additional 20 whales were in a pod almost a mile offshore and 110 whales formed a pod closer to the beach. The statement said: "Our team is making every effort to safely respond and keep volunteers and staff safe, while also acting in the best interests of the whales."

"Our team is assessing the conditions of the whales that have stranded on the beach. Our teams on the water are trying to keep the animals together and away from the beach." In July, almost 100 long-finned pilot whales died or were euthanized after a two-day rescue attempt in a mass stranding on Cheynes Beach near the former whaling station of Albany, 220 miles southeast of Dunsborough. Dunsborough is 177 miles by road south of Perth, Western Australia state's capital and largest city. Based on previous strandings including the 2023 Cheynes Beach event, euthanising the beached whales is usually the most humane outcome, the department said. "We always hope for the best outcome," they added.

Regional wildlife officer Pia Courtis said the whales were believed to have become stranded early Thursday. She said the pod of 110 whales was "sticking together offshore" and was likely to come toward the beach. "Unfortunately the outcome for our pilot whales once they strand on the beach is generally not good. We have high numbers of animals that end up dying," Ms Courtis said in a video statement. Officials urged the public not to try to rescue the whales on their own. "We know people want to help, but we asked that people please do not attempt to rescue the animals without direction of DBCA staff as this may cause further injury, and distress to the animals and hinder a coordinated rescue effort," the Parks and Wildlife Service of Western Australia said in a statement. Dunsborough was the scene of a mass stranding of 320 long-finned pilot whales in 1996. Only 20 died on that occasion, with rescuers returning the rest to sea.

Scientists don't know what causes whales to strand, although it appears their location systems can be confused by gently sloping, sandy beaches. Theories include that they are avoiding predators such as killer whales, or following a sick leader ashore. Human-made undersea noise could also interfere with their navigation.