(NewsNation) — Some 200 whales died after becoming stranded on a beach in the Australian state of Tasmania.
Marine conservationists were able to rescue 32 surviving whales among the group Thursday, according to Tasmania’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment. A rescue attempt was planned Friday for three remaining surviving whales on the beach.
Incident Controller Brendon Clark said in a news release that there was a massive rescue effort executed by conservation staff, volunteers and local aquaculture company personnel.
“The experienced trained staff and volunteers were able to achieve this in the challenging west coast conditions,” Clark said in a news release. “This included soft sand on Ocean Beach, which made accessing some areas and maneuvering vehicles and equipment difficult.”
The pod of pilot whales was first discovered Wednesday, and it’s unclear how they ended up stranded on the beach. Crews worked to get the whales back into deep water, a task that proved difficult because of the remoteness and ruggedness of the area.
“The West Coast is a high-energy area. This can assist with natural decomposition processes but also makes rescue and response more challenging,” the natural resources department said.
Wednesday’s beaching came two years to the day after the largest mass stranding in Tasmania’s history, when more than 450 whales became stranded on the western coast of the island. Both incidents occurred in Macquarie Harbor.
Neighboring New Zealand has the world’s highest stranding rate of dolphins and whales, with hundreds of the mammals beached on its shores each year. The reason why they become trapped on beaches remains a mystery.
Tasmanian authorities will conduct autopsies on the dead whales, which still need to be removed from the beach. It will remain closed while that effort is undertaken.
Reuters contributed to this report.