Wildlife experts have rescued 32 out of the 230 whales that were found stranded on the wild and remote west coast of Tasmania a day earlier.
Half the pod of pilot whales found stranded in Macquarie Harbour had been presumed on Wednesday to still be alive, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said.
But only 35 survived the pounding surf overnight, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manager Brendon Clark said.
“Of the 35 that were remaining alive this morning, we’ve managed to refloat, rescue and release… 32 of those animals, and so that’s a terrific result,” Mr Clark told reporters late on Thursday.
“We still have three alive on the far northern end of Ocean Beach, but because of access restrictions, predominantly tidal influences, we just haven’t been able to access those three animals safely today. But they’ll be our priority in the morning,” he added.
The whales beached two years to the day after the largest mass-stranding in Australia’s history was discovered in the same harbour.
About 470 long-finned pilot whales were found stuck on sandbars on September 21 2020. After a week-long effort, 111 were rescued but the rest died.
The entrance to the harbour is a notoriously shallow and dangerous channel known as Hell’s Gate.
Marine Conservation Programme biologist Kris Carlyon said the dead whales would be tested to see if there were toxins in their systems that might explain the disaster.
“These mass stranding events are typically the result of accidental sort of coming to shore, and that’s through a whole host of reasons,” he said.
Local salmon farmer Linton Kringle, who helped in the 2020 rescue effort, said Thursday’s challenge was more difficult because the whales were in shallower and more exposed waters.
It came after 14 sperm whales were discovered on Monday afternoon beached on King Island in Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and Tasmania.
Griffith University marine scientist Olaf Meynecke said it is unusual for sperm whales to wash ashore. He said warmer temperatures could be changing ocean currents and moving the whales’ traditional food sources.