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Australian rescuers race to save stranded pilot whales

Australian rescuers battled Friday to refloat the last surviving pilot whales from a mass stranding that killed nearly 200 of the animals on a beach in Tasmania.

Fewer than 10 of the shiny black mammals were still alive on Ocean Beach, in remote western Tasmania, state wildlife services said.

Under drizzle, marine wildlife experts began wrapping up a days-long rescue operation that started after a large pod of the animals, which are part of the dolphin family, stranded on the beach.

“The priority still is the rescue and release of those remaining animals and any others that we identify that re-strand,” he said.

Wildlife workers used a fork-lift truck to drag whale carcasses along the beach, lining them up with tails pointed to the frigid ocean. 

One small, young calf could be seen tied up alongside the larger adult pilot whales.

Weather forecasts indicated the “best opportunity” for the operation would be on Sunday, Clark said.

Workers at Tasmanian marine farming company Petuna Aquaculture helped to release surviving whales into the sea.

“We will see it right through to the end to also removing, unfortunately, the whales that have not made it.”

Two years ago, Macquarie Harbour was the scene of the country’s largest-ever mass stranding, involving almost 500 pilot whales.

Scientists still do not fully understand why mass strandings occur.  

Pilot whales — which can grow to more than six metres (20 feet) long — are also highly sociable, so they may follow pod-mates who stray into danger.

Others believe gently sloping beaches like those found in Tasmania confuse the whales’ sonar, making them think they are in open waters.

State officials said that incident may have been a case of “misadventure”.

There, around 300 animals beach themselves annually, according to official figures, and it is not unusual for groups of between 20 and 50 pilot whales to run aground.


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