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Rescuers find hundreds of whales stranded off Tasmania

Some 450 pilot whales have been stranded along the western coast of Tasmania. Photo courtesy of Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment
1 of 4 | Some 450 pilot whales have been stranded along the western coast of Tasmania. Photo courtesy of Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment

Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Tasmanian wildlife authorities said 200 additional pilot whales were discovered Wednesday along the island state's west coast, increasing the size of the mass stranding event to more than 450 as rescuers rush to save those still alive.

Some 270 pilot whales stranded on two sand bars and a stretch of beach in Strahan were reported Tuesday, but an aerial reconnaissance operation on Wednesday morning discovered 200 more at Macquarie Harbor, about 3 to 5 miles away from the first site, said officials with the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.

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Nic Deka, the incident controller and Parks and Wildlife Service's regional manager, said that they believe most of the 200 whales are dead but a team has been dispatched to assess the situation.

"From the air, most of the additional whales detected appear to be dead, but as we speak a boat has headed over there this morning to do an assessment from the water," he said in a media conference.

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Deka said the whales discovered Wednesday are part of the mass stranding event from the day prior but went undetected as they were hidden in a part of the harbor where the water is dark and the whales may have been stranded, pulled back to sea and then washed back into the bay by the current.

The new discovery has prompted them to do a more extensive search, but the plan remains the same: to save those whales that are still alive, he said.

"Our focus is on those animals that are still alive, and still under the conditions to be gotten off the bar and out to deep water," he said. "So we'll continue on with that approach and hopefully, by the end of today, the count of whales successfully rescued will have increased."

The number of whales still alive is "significant," he said without clarifying, adding that rescuers were attending to them.

On Tuesday night, Deka said in a press release that about a third of the 270 whales discovered that day had perished but about 25 that were still alive had been taken out of the channel and were back in the ocean.

However, a few of those that had been rescued had become re-stranded by Wednesday morning.

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"That was a disappointment at the end of yesterday to find a small number of those whales had re-stranded," he said. "But the good news is the majority of the whales were rescued were still out in deep water, and swimming."

The cause of the stranding is unknown and it is considered a natural phenomenon with all the whales likely to be apart of a single stranding event, said Kris Carlyon, a wildlife biologist with the department, adding that it is the largest such event in Australia's island state of Tasmania's history.

"Globally, there has been some much bigger events than this -- twice the size and over, for example, in New Zealand," he said. "In Tasmania, this is the biggest that we have recorded."

Carlyon said there is nothing they can do to prevent such events from re-occurring and the reason to attempt to intervene is because they can.

"I think we have a really good chance of getting more off the sandbar and out through the gates," he said. "We are still very hopeful."

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