At least 380 pilot whales have died off the coast of Australia in what officials are saying is the country's largest recorded mass stranding.
According to reports, some 500 whales have been stranded in shallow waters, on a beach and two sandbars, along Tasmania, an island state of Australia. Officials first reported news of the mass-stranding earlier this week, originally believing only 250 were stuck.
Rescue missions were launched on Tuesday and they were able to free almost 90 whales by late Thursday, Reuters reported. Four had to be euthanized.
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"There is a likelihood that we will be continuing the rescue efforts tomorrow," Nic Deka, an incident official with the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water, and Environment, told reporters, per Reuters.
"While we have live animals that have a chance and we have the crew to shift them, we will give it a go," he added.
In addition to continuing rescue efforts, Deka said officials are also exploring how to dispose of the 380 dead whales. They are considering loading the carcasses onto a barge or towing them in a group.
"Realistically it could take several days. We are intending to start tomorrow. If we get a method that works efficiently it may be by early next week we will have made a real dent," he said.
Marine scientist Vanessa Pirotta told Australian broadcaster ABC News that the mass stranding was, unfortunately, a result of whale behavior.
"Unfortunately, they do have a very strong social system, and these animals are very closely bonded. And that's why we have seen so many in this case, unfortunately, end up in this situation," she explained.
Mass whale strandings like this one are relatively common near Tasmania, as the mammals pass it on their journey to and from Antarctica.
"Globally there has been some much bigger events than this, twice the size and over for example in New Zealand. In Tasmania, this is the biggest we have recorded," Marine and Conservation Program wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon said in a statement.
“There is little we can do to prevent this occurring in the future," she added.
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