The majority of a 470-strong pod of pilot whales found stranded off the Australian state of Tasmania has died, officials said on Wednesday, as rescuers struggled in freezing waters and fading light to free those still alive.
The group, which is the biggest beaching in the country’s modern history, were first spotted on a wide sandbank during an aerial reconnaissance of rugged Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania on Monday.
After two days of a difficult and dangerous rescue attempt, state marine scientists said at least 380 of the long-finned pilot whales had died.
By late Wednesday, around fifty of the mammals were freed but experts said there was a high likelihood they would return as many did during the rescue attempt a day earlier, creating an exhausting loop for rescuers who cannot work through the night.
The outlook for the remaining 30 stranded and still alive pilot whales, a species of oceanic dolphin that grow to seven metres long and can weigh up to 3000 kilograms, was bleak.
“As time goes on, they do become fatigued and their chance of survival reduces,” Nic Deka, Parks and Wildlife Service incident controller said. “We do expect to rescue more but increasingly our focus is what do with the carcasses.”
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The refloating process involves as many as four or five people per whale wading waist-deep in freezing water, attaching slings to the animals so they can be guided out of the harbour by a boat.
The stranding, about 200 kms northwest of Hobart, is the biggest on record in modern Australia and one of the largest in the world, drawing attention to a...