Almost 100 whales saved after Tas beaching

Rescuers have saved 94 pilots whales from a harbour on Tasmania's west coast.
Rescuers have saved 94 pilots whales from a harbour on Tasmania's west coast.

About a fifth of the pilot whales involved in a mass stranding in Tasmania have been rescued, as efforts turn to the grim task of carcass disposal.

Crews freed at least six remaining survivors from sandbanks at Macquarie Harbour on Friday, taking the overall rescue tally to 94.

There are hopes another 12-20 are healthy enough to still be saved.

Wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon, who has helped coordinate the operation, said it had been "one hell of an effort".

Some 470 whales became stranded on the remote west coast earlier this week in the largest beaching on record in Australia.

"We haven't dealt with a stranding of this type before and we are using new and novel techniques as part of the rescue," Dr Carlyon said.

"The best-case scenario is these animals will regroup and re-bond."

Crews have been trialling methods to remove about 350 dead whales from the harbour and are likely to tow carcasses by boat out to sea.

The aim is to start in earnest as quickly as possible but it could take almost a week, depending on conditions and the tide.

State parks and wildlife service incident controller Nic Deka was confident the carcasses wouldn't impact the health of the harbour, where fish farms are present.

He said one carcass had been "chomped" and some sharks had been reported further up the coast, but not in the harbour itself.

"It needs to be understood that this is an environment that shark are present in all time," he said.

"Sharks are certainly not uncommon in this part of the world. In fact, the locals fish with sharks off the beach."

Dr Carlyon thanked rescuers for their tireless efforts in cold water, with around 100 people working on the mission at any one time.

"We are getting some fantastic support from volunteers," said.

A small number of rescued whales have re-beached and since died.

Experts believe the stranding is the largest ever recorded in Australia, surpassing the 1996 beaching of 320 pilot whales at Dunsborough in Western Australia.

Australian Associated Press