(Update 1 adds new information, minor edits, new headline)
Sydney, Australia, Sep 23 (efe-epa).- Despite ongoing rescue efforts, 380 of the pilot whales beached in the Australian state of Tasmania’s worst mass stranding event have died, authorities said Wednesday.
In a late-afternoon update, the state’s Marine Conservation Program (MCP) “confirmed that 380 whales from the stranding have died” but added that “50 whales have been rescued,” and 30 animals remain alive, with rescue efforts continuing.
On Wednesday morning, the local government had announced that an additional group of 200 whales had been discovered stranded on the west coast of the island state, bringing the total to around 470.
“From the air most of the additional whales detected appear to be dead, but a boat has headed over there this morning to do an assessment from the water,” incident controller and Parks and Wildlife Service regional manager Nic Deka said in a statement.
The new group of whales was found in Macquarie Harbour 7-10 kilometers away from the 270 found Monday spread over three locations – two sandbars and one beach.
“In Tasmania, this is the biggest [stranding] we have recorded,” said MCP wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon.
Authorities on Tuesday said a third of the first group had died and another 25 had been successfully refloated.
Deka said the additional 200 were only just discovered due to them being “a good distance from where we have been working and not necessarily a place that is obvious for a stranding.”
“We certainly searched up and down the coast. In that part of the harbor the water is a very dark tannin color so we think potentially they stranded, washed back into the water and then have been washed back into the bay, so that made it more difficult for them to be detected earlier in the piece,” he added.
Rescuers were rushing to save the whales, with Deka saying Wednesday morning that “mortality has increased, but there are a significant number that are alive, so we will continue to work with those.”
Carlyon added that they “have a really good chance of getting more off the sandbar and out through the gates. We are still very hopeful.”
Options for the disposal of dead whales were being assessed Wednesday.
“We can’t leave the whales in the harbor as they will present a range of issues. We are committed to retrieving and disposing but our key priority is to remain focused on the rescue effort,” Deka said.
Carlyon, who on Tuesday highlighted the difficulty in determining the reasons why whales become stranded en masse, suggested that they could have approached the coast in search of food or “simple misadventure” by one or two whales that would have been followed by the rest of the pod. EFE-EPA