On January 22, 48 sperm whales were found stranded on Perkins Island, off the northwest coast of Tasmania, Australia Despite efforts to rescue the whales, only five specimens were alive by late Friday and three of them died during the night. Rescuers now hope that at least these two whales will be able to return safely to the sea.

813412 sperm whale 7 Sperm whales killed by Tasmanian death trap

The reason behind the stranding is believed to be a special wind pattern that brings nutrients up to the surface. Karen Evans, a government scientist, said the winds occur in a 10-year cycle in this region. As the winds bring nutrients up through the water column, squids and other suitable sperm whale prey follows and this is what lures the whales too close to the shallows. In November, two large groups of pilot whales stranded in the same region.

I’ve flown over this area where the sperm whales are, and it’s almost like a whale death trap,” says Evans. “There are lots of wide sandbars and beaches, all kinds of traps for animals that go into it.”

The Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus or Physeter catodon) is the largest of all toothed whales and largest living toothed animal. Some of the animals that where found stranded on Perkins Island were more than 30 feet (over 9 metres) in length, but male sperm whales can actually reach a length of at least 67 feet (over 20 metres). Sperm whales feed mainly on squid and fish, including Colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) and Giant squids of the genus Architeuthis.