Rescuers race to save 180 stranded whales in Australia

Up to 90 whales have died after becoming stranded in a remote bay in southern Australia, with rescuers warning Tuesday the mission to save another 180 still stuck will prove “challenging”.

Scientists said two large pods of long-finned pilot whales became stuck on sandbars in Macquarie Harbour, on Tasmania’s rugged and sparsely populated west coast.

Images from the scene showed shallow water thick with scores of the large slick-black mammals manoeuvering for space.

Rescuers could be seen wading in the water to reach the whales as they attempted to refloat them in deeper passages.

Government marine biologist Kris Carlyon said “about a third” of the 270 animals were dead by late Monday, and that rescuing survivors would be “challenging” task likely to take several days.

Though mass whale strandings occur relatively often in Tasmania, such a large group has not been seen in the area for more than a decade.

The animals are only accessible by boat, limiting the number of rescuers who can reach them.

About 60 people — including volunteers and local fish farm workers — are involved in the rescue attempt.

They are battling cold, wet conditions as well as the harbour’s unusual tides which are dictated by barometric pressure.

“In terms of mass whale strandings in Tasmania, this is up there with the trickiest,” Carlyon told reporters in the nearby town of Strahan.

However, Carlyon said many of the partially submerged whales should be able to survive for the several days it would take his team to complete the task, in part due to the inclement weather.

“It’s pretty ugly for people on the ground but as far as the whales go its ideal — it’s keeping them wet, it’s keeping them cool,” he said.

Carlyon said rescuers would still have to “triage” the whales, prioritising the healthiest and most accessible. (AFP)

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