Australian rescuers were forced Thursday to begin euthanising some surviving whales from a mass stranding that has already killed 380 members of the giant pod, reports AFP.
While 88 pilot whales have been saved since the pod was discovered beached on Tasmania’s rugged western seaboard four days ago, the death toll is expected to rise as the window for rescue closes.
“We still have a few more live animals that we think are going to be viable to move,” said Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service manager Nic Deka, praising the hard “yakka” (work) of rescuers who will continue until nightfall and into Friday.
“There is a likelihood that we’ll be continuing the rescue effort tomorrow… our focus has been on those that appear the most viable and have the most chance of success,” he said. A crew of around 60 conservationists and expert volunteers have spent days wading in the chilly waters of Macquarie Harbour, surrounded by the anguishing cries of dying whales.
“It is emotional,” said rescuer Sam Thalmann.
“There are animals swimming around, they are vocalising. We can see the bonds and the pairings within them.”
Pilot whales — which can grow up to six metres (20 feet) long and weigh a tonne — are highly social. Some animals have resisted rescue or tried to return to the pod after being freed, becoming beached for a second time.
Such is the level of distress that authorities said they had to carry out mercy killings of at least four whales.