Authorities say Wednesday that 470 strong pilot whales trapped in South Australia have died, with rescuers struggling in freezing water and dimming the light to free those still alive.
The group, the largest beach in the country’s modern history, appeared Monday in an extensive sandbank during an aerial surveillance of the rugged Macquarie harbor in Tasmania.
After two days of difficult and dangerous rescue efforts, state marine scientists say at least 380 pilot whales have died.
By the end of Wednesday, about 50 mammals had been liberated, but experts said they were likely to return as many had done in the rescue effort the day before, creating a tiring loop for rescuers who could not work overnight.
The vision of the remaining 30 lone and still-living pilot whales of the sea dolphin, which is seven meters (23 feet) long and weighs three tons, is unclear.
“As time goes on, they get tired and their chances of survival decrease,” said Nick Deca, event controller at Parks and Wildlife Service. “We hope to save more, but our focus is more on what to do with the corpses.”
In the process of floating back a whale four or five people walk waist deep in the freezing water, attaching slings to the animals so that they can be guided by boat from the harbor.
Located 200 kilometers northwest of the state capital Hobart, this stranding is the largest on record in modern Australia and the largest in the world, drawing attention to a natural phenomenon that remains a mystery to scientists.
Peter Harrison, a professor at the Southern Cross University Whale Research Group, said “this is a very big event and very worrying when so many whales are lost”.
“Very often, we only really see them when there are bad results like this stranding incident. We definitely need some more investment in research to understand these whales in Australian waters.”
In 1996, 320 pilot whales washed ashore off the coast of Western Australia, the largest mass stranding in the country at that time. About 600 pilot whales were beached in 2017 in nearby New Zealand.