Most of the 500 whales stranded off Tasmania have now died

Rescuers have been trying desperately to save the pilot whales, found stranded in Tasmania (Picture: Getty)

Dozens more stricken whales have been found in Australia’s largest ever mass stranding. 

The estimated total now stands at around 500, with the majority of that number dead and a tenth rescued by authorities on the Island state of Tasmania. Experts believe all of the animals would have been part of one large group.

Officials began working to rescue survivors among an estimated 270 whales found on Monday on a beach and two sandbars near the remote coastal town of Strahan.

Then another 200 whales were spotted from a helicopter on Wednesday less than 10 kilometres (six miles) to the south, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manager Nic Deka explained. All 200 had been confirmed dead by late afternoon.

They were among the 380 whales that have died overall, with estimates from earlier today suggesting that 30 that were alive but stranded and 50 had been rescued since Tuesday, Mr Deka explained.

He added: ‘We’ll continue to work to free as many of the animals as we can.

‘We’ll continue working for as long as there are live animals.’

Horrifying images show the stricken animals in the shallows and lying on beaches together as rescuers desperately attempt to save them.

It is not known what caused the animals to run aground.

While stranding events are not unheard of, they are very rare in such large numbers.

About 30 whales in the original stranding were moved from the sandbars to open ocean on Tuesday, but several got stranded again.

About a third of the first group had died by Monday evening.

Tasmania is the only part of Australia prone to mass strandings, although they occasionally occur on the mainland.

Teams working to help the animals in Strahan on Wednesday (Picture: Getty Images)
The countless stranded animal makes a distressing sight among this patch of coastline (Picture: AP)
People helping a whale in Macquarie Harbour with a wet sheet (Picture: Tasmania Police/AFP)
Whales stranded on a sandbar (Picture: AFP)
At least 380 whales are believed to have died (Picture: AFP)

Australia’s largest mass stranding had previously been 320 pilot whales near the Western Australian town of Dunsborough in 1996.

This week’s incident is the first involving more than 50 whales in Tasmania since 2009.

Marine Conservation Programme wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon said the latest mass stranding was the biggest in Australia ‘in terms of numbers stranded and died’.

The pod may have been drawn into the coast to feed or by the misadventure of one or two whales, which led to the rest of the pod following, Mr Carlyon said.

‘It’s really likely this was the one stranding event of a big group. This would have been one big group offshore,’ he said.

Rescuers transport a whale by trailer (Picture: AFP)
Nearly a dozen whales lie helpless on the sand (Picture: AP)
It is not clear what caused the mammals to become stranded (Picture: AFP)
The whales struggled to free themselves from this sand bar on Monday (Picture: Getty Images AsiaPac)

Marine scientist Vanessa Pirotta said there were a number of potential reasons why whales might become beached, including navigational errors.

She explained: ‘They do have a very strong social system, these animals are closely bonded and that’s why we have seen so many in this case unfortunately in this situation.’

Rescuing them does not always work ‘because they are wanting to return back to the pod, they might hear the acoustics for the vocalisations of the sounds that the others are making, or they’re just disoriented and in this case extremely stressed, and just probably so fatigued that they in some cases don’t know where they are’, she added.

In neighbouring New Zealand, more than 600 pilot whales washed up on the South Island at Farewell Spit in 2017, with more than 350 dying.

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