CANBERRA, Australia – About 130 pilot whales (search) died after three pods became stranded on a remote beach in southern Australia, a government official said Wednesday.
Two groups of long-finned pilot whales beached themselves near Marion Bay (search) on the southern island state of Tasmania (search), according to Liz Wren, a spokeswoman for the state's parks and wildlife service.
A fisherman first reported seeing the whales swimming ashore early Tuesday, but Wren said it took wildlife officials several hours to reach the site, which is accessible only by boat.
Nearly 60 whales died and about 10 had been rescued with the help of scores of volunteers and wildlife officials by nightfall Tuesday.
But a third pod began beaching at dusk. For safety reasons, the rescue effort did not resume until Wednesday morning, Wren said.
"It was a new pod because the ones that were returned yesterday were tagged so we know that they didn't re-strand," Wren said. "We're left with a total of about 130 or so dead pilot whales, which is a real shame."
Rescuers found about 70 of the latest arrivals dead on the beach Wednesday morning and 14 still alive.
Rescue volunteers battled onshore winds and rough surf to return eight survivors to the sea by late morning. Another eight died, Wren said.
"I took a lot of effort to dig the whales out of the sand, roll them onto mats, get the mats down to the water's edge and then go into quite a rough surf to help the whales get orientated back in the water and swimming in the right direction," she said.
Wren said exact numbers of deaths and survivors were not available because the beachings were spread over more than a mile of beach.
She said while there were theories about why whales beach, there was no explanation for the latest strandings.
Long-finned pilot whales are medium-sized whales, reaching up to about 20 feet in length, with a bulbous forehead rounding to a short beak.
A group of 70 long-finned pilot whales beached themselves in the same location in 1998, Wren said. Only 10 survived.