Australian rescuers race to save stranded pilot whales

OCEAN BEACH, AUSTRALIA – Australian rescuers battled Friday to refloat the last surviving pilot whales from a mass stranding that killed nearly 200 of the animals on a surf-battered beach in Tasmania.

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

About 30 of the animals were released into the ocean on Thursday, but some had beached themselves again, said Mr Brendon Clark, incident controller with the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service.

Under cool drizzle, marine wildlife experts began to wrap up a complex days-long rescue operation that started with a large pod of the animals, which are part of the dolphin family, stranding on the beach mid-week.

Three pilot whales had yet to be reached because of their remote location on the shore and the difficult tidal conditions, Mr Clark told reporters at the scene.

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

Next, Mr Clark said, comes the task of disposing of the carcasses.

Wildlife workers used a fork-lift truck to line up whale carcasses along the beach, their tails pointed to the frigid ocean.

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

A long white line was looped around the tails of dozens of the animals to allow them to be towed en masse to disposal at sea.

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

If left in shallow waters or on the beach, the carcasses could attract sharks and can carry disease.

“We are making every effort to consolidate the carcasses at the moment into one spot and then push ahead with getting them offshore,” said Mr Kris Carlyon, operations manager with the state wildlife services.