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Whale stranding biggest ever in Tasmania

Hundreds of pilot whales have likely died on Tasmania’s remote west coast in what experts say is the state’s biggest mass stranding in recorded history.

A second group of 200 whales was discovered at Macquarie Harbour on Wednesday morning, taking the overall number to around 470.

Parks and Wildlife manager Nic Deka said the majority of the newly found group were likely dead.

They were spotted from air further inside the harbour, some 7-10 kilometres from the original sandbar rescue site where about 270 got stuck on Monday.

“From the air they didn’t look to be in a condition that would warrant rescue, most of them appeared to be dead,” Mr Deka said.

“If they can be saved we probably will send crews over there.”

Further assessment of their condition will be undertaken by boat.

Ongoing rescue efforts have returned about 30 whales from sandbars to open ocean but several got stranded again.

About a third of the initial 270-strong group are thought to have died, and more information about their condition expected to be known later on Wednesday.

“In Tasmania, this is the biggest (mass stranding) we’ve recorded,” Marine Conservation Program wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon said.

He said crews remained optimistic about freeing more whales.

Their chances of survival have been aided by cool and overcast weather.

“We’re not at a stage where we’re considering euthanasia,” Dr Carlyon said.

“At this stage, there are animals still alive. We’ve got a very good chance of getting more off that sandbar and through the gates.”

The pod may have been drawn into the coast to feed or by the misadventure of one or two.

“It’s really likely this was the one stranding event of a big group. This would have been one big group offshore,” Dr Carlyon said.

Experts have labelled the operation “one of the trickiest” due to the number of animals and unique tides in the area.

Authorities are also considering how to handle the grim task of getting rid of the carcasses.

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