Tasmania Parks and Conservation Service manager Brendon Clark said only 35 people had survived the surf overnight.
“Out of the 35 that survived this morning, we’ve been able to float, rescue and release … 32 animals and that’s a great result,” Clark told reporters late Thursday in nearby Strahan.
“At the north end of Ocean Beach we still have three alive, but due to access restrictions, mostly tidal effects, we just haven’t been able to get to those three animals safely today. But those are our priorities in the morning,” added Clark.
The whales beached two years to the day after the largest mass whale in Australian history was discovered in the same port.
On September 21, 2020, approximately 470 finned pilot whales were found stuck on sandbanks. After a week-long effort, 111 of the whales were rescued, but the rest died.
The entrance to the harbor is a notoriously shallow and dangerous channel known as Hell’s Gate.
Kris Carlyon, a marine conservation program biologist, said the dead whales are being tested to see if they have toxins in their systems that could explain the disaster.
“These mass stranding events are usually the result of random strandings, and there are many reasons for this,” Carlyon said.
Local salmon farmer Linton Kringle helped with the 2020 rescue and said Thursday’s challenge was more difficult because the whales were in shallower, more open waters.
On Monday afternoon, 14 sperm whales were spotted on King Island in Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and Tasmania.
Olaf Meynecke, a marine scientist at Griffith University, said it was unusual for sperm whales to wash ashore. Warmer temperatures could also change ocean currents and move the whales’ traditional diet, he said.