Voice of Real Australia: Shock, awe, acceptance: The tale of Tassie's mass whale stranding

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Scenes from the rescue. Photos: Brodie Weeding.

Scenes from the rescue. Photos: Brodie Weeding.

I'm from the mainland. But I've always been drawn to Tasmania. It seems like a wild, lush island of jagged rocky cliffs and wooden giants. I've visited several times and it always surprises me.

I went to hike Cradle Mountain on a beautiful spring day. As I drove closer to the park it started to snow. I got to the information centre and they told me to turn around and head back or I'd be stuck there. The next morning I woke in my accommodation to find the world around me had turned white. It was one of the most beautiful mornings I've ever seen. Clear blue sky, fields of white, potoroos nosing through the snow, the vibrant green of the trees still showing through the snow cover.

As a kid Tasmania scared me. I always got seasick on the Spirit, and when I learnt about Tasmanian Tigers I was so angry. But the island romanced me. I've been planning a trip to the rugged west coast for years.

So when I heard about the whales that died last year near the small fishing town of Strahan, my heart was broken but I wasn't surprised. To me, Tasmania is a place of contrast, of savage beauty.

On September 21, 2020, 470 pilot whales beached themselves across Macquarie Harbour, Betsie Bay and Ocean Beach on the west coast of Tasmania. Nearby in the town of Strahan the community was devastated.

I spoke to locals, scientists, volunteers and government workers to find out why these whales stranded. On this week's episode of the Voice of Real Australia podcast I find out about the huge rescue effort, the impact of the stranding and what we've learnt from it.

The fishing village has a permanent population of 650 people. It's a tourist town, providing a base camp for heritage forests and wild beaches. Upriver is Sarah Island, a colonial penal settlement older than Port Arthur.

Strahan's primary school has 50 students. A teacher told me the children were upset by the mass stranding, but that it helped start important conversations.

Local actor Kiah Davey who runs and stars in Australia's longest running play said the stranding brought the community together.

It wasn't her first stranding but it was the biggest one. I heard similar things from everyone on the ground. Shock and awe, but acceptance that it's a part of life.

After a week 110 whales were saved and hundreds perished. A life saver who helped with the whale rescue told me the harbour looked like a forest full of dead, fallen trees.

Hundreds of people worked over 10 days to save those whales. They worked long days in freezing waters, in rainy, windy conditions.

A vet told me she felt compelled to do each animal justice. Experts came in from all around the state, the local fish farms provided boats and a barge. Strahan restaurants provided meals for the exhausted volunteers. Everyone lent a hand where they could. And during a year of confusion and division, it was beautiful to see.

Another community benefited from the stranding. The local Tasmanian devil population were spotted gorging themselves on fresh blubber. Claw and bite marks were even seen on floating carcasses. A zoologist on site told me there would certainly be a lot of devils with shiny coats this year.

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