HOBART, Australia – Rescuers trying to keep seven stranded sperm whales alive said Friday they were having difficulty navigating numerous sandbars but hoped to move the animals out to sea at the next high tide.
A team of six wildlife rangers continued to pour water on the parched skin of the whales, the only ones left alive from a pod of 45 whales that beached Thursday on a remote sand bank off Australia's southern coast.
Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Liz Wren said the many sandbars off the beach had hindered efforts to move the whales back to sea.
She said rescuers would attempt to save the remaining whales at high tide Saturday morning, depending on weather conditions.
"This will be one of the most challenging rescues ever attempted. They are packed pretty tightly together. This will be as difficult as they get," Wren said.
The whales beached about 160 yards off Perkins Island on the northwest of Tasmania state, and all but seven had died by the time they were spotted, wildlife officials said.
The rangers reached the whales Friday and spent the day trying to keep their skin wet.
The team had determined that the stranded pod numbered 45, and Wren said there were young whales among the seven survivors.
The reasons for the beaching were unclear, but Wren said they may have been partly caused by rough sea conditions and the narrow channel that the pod had been navigating between the island and the mainland.
Strandings happen periodically in Tasmania, which whales pass on their migration to and from Antarctic waters. It is not known why the creatures get stranded.
Last November, 150 long-finned pilot whales died after beaching on a rocky coastline in Tasmania despite frantic efforts to save them. A week earlier, rescuers saved 11 pilot whales among a pod of 60 that had beached on the island state.