Tasmania's government said over 450 long-finned pilot whales have been stranded since yesterday. "We do expect to rescue more but increasingly our focus is what do with the carcasses". At this stage, the animals that are still alive we think we do have a chance with those given that they're wet.
Officials have now expanded their search area to see if more whales are stuck nearby. [Bilal Rashid via Reuters] The rescue crew of 60 conservationists, skilled volunteers and local fish-farm workers are now concentrating their efforts on the survivors from the first pod, which are partially submerged.
The stranding, about 200 kms (120 miles) northwest of the state capital Hobart, is the biggest on record in modern Australia and one of the largest in the world, drawing attention to a natural phenomenon that remains a mystery to scientists.
Some of the whales rescued Tuesday re-stranded overnight in line with predictions by whale behaviour experts, but Deka remained upbeat about the rescue mission as several more were freed Wednesday.
Wednesday brought new horrors, after aerial surveying detected a second group of 200 whales further south in Macquarie Harbour, believed to be part of the same mass stranding event at Strahan.
Scientists do not know why whales sometimes beach, but they are known to follow a leader and gather around an injured or distressed member of their pod.
There is a bit of good news; 25 of the Strahan whales were rescued by the end of Tuesday, with the use of a boat and sling, and released back out to the sea, authorities said.
The outlook for the remaining 30 stranded and still alive pilot whales, a species of oceanic dolphin that grow to 7 metres (23 ft) long and can weigh up to 3 tonnes, was bleak.
"We have got a more accurate count and we can confirm that 380 whales are dead", Tasmania's Parks and Wildlife Service manager Nic Deka said.
"You might have one or two compromised individuals in that whole group that do have an injury, or a debilitation, or a disease that's caused some kind of navigational failure", she said.
They're cool at this stage, and we're pushing ahead with rescue at this stage.
"We've been very lucky over the last few days, we've had favourable tides. but it is still very rough, and the animals do have to traverse quite a bit of broken water".
Pilot whales' social bonds tend to pose a challenge for rescue operations, said Karen Stockin, a marine biology researcher at Massey University in nearby New Zealand, who has done extensive work on strandings. The pod may have been drawn into the coast to feed or by the misadventure of one or two whales, which had led to the rest of the pod following, Carlyon said.
Of those found, 380 have died, making this the largest mass stranding event ever recorded in the country.