108 pilot whales were safely rescued and released back into the sea after a mass stranding in Australia killed over 350, officials said.
Marine experts now believe Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s west coast is now clear of live whales.
At least 350 whales died in what is Australia’s worst stranding on record.
Now attention has turned to disposal of the carcasses, with 15 buried at sea on Friday in a trial to test the success of that method.
The Tasmanian government on Saturday confirmed that 108 long-finned pilot whales which had survived the stranding had been released outside the heads at Macquarie Harbour.
Marine Conservation Program wildlife biologist Dr Kris Carlyon called it a fantastic outcome after five days of hard work by the rescue team.
“We only had one whale restrand overnight, which is a good result given 20 whales were released yesterday,” Dr Carlyon said.
At least four whales had to be euthanized earlier in the week as they were too exhausted to be saved.
Efforts are now being made to remove the carcasses from the harbour. This would take a number of days and depend on wind, tide and other conditions, said the government statement.
“Yesterday, 15 whales were buried at sea in a trial to determine the success of this disposal method,” Rob Buck, Incident Controller and Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) manager, said.
“Collection and disposal is being undertaken with the assistance of aquaculture companies whose equipment and expertise on the harbour is essential for a timely and effective outcome.”
Local residents have been urged to stay away from the area while the removal is under way.
It is not fully understood why the whales became stranded. The species is known to be prone to getting beached.
Researchers say it’s possible that one leading individual could have mistakenly led the whole group to shore.
It’s thought that such groups are also susceptible around beaches which gently slope across a wide area – because the whales’ sonar pulses can fail to detect the shoreline in shallow waters.
The stranding, one of the largest ever recorded globally, eclipses a previous national record of 320 set in Western Australia in 1996.