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More than 150 short-finned pilot whales were found stranded early Friday in Hamelin Bay, Western Australia, located in the country's southwestern tip.
Despite ongoing rescue efforts, only six of the whales have survived the beaching, according to officials with Western Australia's Parks and Wildlife Service. Over 100 volunteers were on hand to help the parks and wildlife staff rescue the whales and try to get them back out to sea.
According to Jeremy Chick, an incident controller with the wildlife service, the strength of the animals and the windy and possibly wet weather conditions affected when and how they could attempt to move them out to sea.
The rocky terrain of the beach and navigating the surviving whales around the deceased whales back into the water was also challenging. Officials were monitoring to make sure the whales wouldn't come back into shore and re-strand once they were back in the water.
“Most of the whales beached themselves on dry land overnight and have not survived. Rescue operations will be hampered by deteriorating, weather conditions and we need to ensure the safety of everyone involved before we move the whales,” Chick said.
"The main objectives are to ensure the safety of staff and volunteers as well as the whales' greatest chance of survival."
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A cause of the stranding is not yet known.
Hamelin Bay is located about 192 miles (310 km) southwest of Perth.
The remaining six surviving whales have been returned to sea. Thank you to all involved for your amazing efforts today. pic.twitter.com/BDZ7kgNaEm— Parks and Wildlife (@WAParksWildlife) March 23, 2018
A shark alert was issued for the area as the dead whales were expected to attract sharks. This comes at a time when surfers where looking to possibly head to the ocean due to large swells generated from Tropical Cyclone Marcus, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The wildlife service said these pilot whales are known to frequent tropical and subtropical waters but groups usually number less than 100.
The largest mass stranding in Western Australia occurred in 1996 when 320 long-finned pilot whales beached themselves in the town of Dunsborough.
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