Tasmania: Around 200 pilot whales die after 230 stranded on beach

Whales are stranded on Ocean Beach at Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania of Australia. Credit: Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania via AP

Around 200 pilot whales have died a day after 230 whales were found stranded on the west coast of Australia's island state of Tasmania, leaving only 35 whales still alive on Thursday.

Half the pod of pilot whales stranded in Macquarie Harbour were presumed to still be alive on Wednesday, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said.

But pounding surf took a toll overnight, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service Manager Brendon Clark said.

"We've triaged the animals yesterday as part of the preliminary assessment and we've identified those animals that had best chance of survival of the approximately 230 that stranded. Today's focus will be on rescue and release operations," Clark told reporters at nearby Strahan.

"We've got approximately 35 surviving animals out on the beach... and the primary focus this morning will be on the rescue and release of those animals," Clark added.

On Thursday 32 of the 35 surviving animals were released back into the sea.

Rescuers attempt to move a stranded whale to open water at Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania of Australia Credit: AP

The whales beached two years to the day after the largest mass-stranding in Australia's history was discovered in the same harbour.

About 470 long-finned pilot whales were found on September 21 2020, stuck on sandbars.

After a weeklong effort, 111 of those whales were rescued but the rest died.

The whales pictured on Wednesday. Credit: Andrew Breen/Huon Aquaculture via AP

The entrance to the harbour is a notoriously shallow and dangerous channel known as Hell's Gate.

Vanessa Pirotta, a wildlife scientist specialising in marine mammals, said it was too early to explain why the stranding had occurred.

Fourteen sperm whales were discovered on Monday afternoon on King Island, part of the state of Tasmania in the Bass Strait between Melbourne and Tasmania's northern coast.

The pilot whale is notorious for stranding in mass numbers, for reasons that are not entirely understood.