Almost 100 stranded pilot whales have now been rescued from Tasmania’s remote west coast, the site of Australia’s largest mass beaching.
Rescuers freed six of the animals on Friday from sandbars at Macquarie Harbour, taking the overall tally to 94.
Some 12-20 stranded whales can still be saved, authorities say, five days after the pod got into trouble.
“We’ll continue working through the rest of today to do what we can with those animals,” parks and wildlife incident controller Nic Deka said.
“We’re hopeful we will release a few more from the sandbar and out to sea.”
The number of dead whales has been revised down from 380 to 350, with efforts turning to the grim task of removing carcasses, a process that could take many days.
There are concerns they could pollute the harbour, attract sharks and pose a navigation risk.
“Our aim will be to do it as quickly as possible,” Mr Deka said.
The carcasses will likely be taken out to sea, either on barges or towed by boats, from Friday if conditions allow.
A total of 470 pilot whales were discovered stranded in the harbour on Monday and Wednesday.
Wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon, who has helped coordinate the rescue, says crews have been encouraged by the number of animals saved.
“If we’d said on Monday, when we were going through plans, that we’d get 90 off the (sand) bar then we’d have been very happy with that,” he said.
“It’s a fantastic result for us.”
Dr Carlyon is hopeful the freed whales will reunite at sea, although they may face challenges if older leading females are missing.
“Tracking work in the past has shown that animals released individually do re-form after a period,” he said.
“This species is generally led by matriarchs.
“If the group has lost those older females with that built-up knowledge of the area and the food resources over time, they may need to learn some behaviours.”
Scientists have taken biopsy samples from the dead whales to learn more about their family links and the species’ behaviour.
Pilot whales are highly social and can travel in groups of up to 1000.
Experts believe the stranding is the largest ever recorded in Australia, surpassing the 1996 beaching of 320 pilot whales at Dunsborough in Western Australia.