Ninety of the 270 pilot whales that washed up on a sandbar off Tasmania’s remote west coast died in one of Australia’s worst stranding events.
Tasmanian Marine Conservation Program rescue teams had managed to free 25 whales on Tuesday, many of which were “relatively inaccessible” by boat, and hope to save more in the coming days.
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The whales were spotted from the sky on Monday stranded at Macquarie Harbor – near the town of Strahan – while others struggled in slightly deeper water.
Rescuers had to enter the icy water and tie the whales to the slings; then they guided the animals as the boats dragged them into deeper water.
More than 60 people are involved in the ongoing effort, including local fishermen and volunteers. They work in shifts and wear coveralls to prevent hypothermia.
“We opted for a method where we put a sling under the whale, which is attached to a boat (and) we also have a crew in the water,” explained Nic Deka, director of the Parks and Wildlife Service. from Tasmania at a press conference.
Rescuers would give a new estimate of the number of whales that perished on Wednesday.
“We are dealing with large animals in distress, for days at a time, and sometimes it takes a heavy emotional toll,” government wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon told reporters. “It’s a natural occurrence, so we can accept losing animals. We are trying to have as many survivors as possible. ”
Pilot whales are a species of oceanic dolphin that grow up to 23 feet and can weigh up to three tons. They are sturdy and have a chance to last for several days if the weather stays cool, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
Scientists don’t know why whales sometimes fail, but they are known to follow a leader and congregate around an injured or distressed member of their party.
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Pods can be as large as 1,000 animals.
Tasmania last recorded a massive stranding in 2009 involving around 200 whales, according to the BBC.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.