About 150 whales were stranded on a beach in Western Australia on Friday, March 23, sparking a major rescue operation.
A fisherman first spotted the whales on Hamelin Bay, about 300 km (180 miles) south of Perth on the beach at about 6:00 a.m. on Friday.
Most of the whales—that officials say are short-finned pilot whales—have now died, with six survivors taken back into the sea in the late afternoon, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
The mammals were transported down the beach using large cranes with slings.
Short-finned pilot whales are a species that are known to “strand en masse,” said Pia Courtis, from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) March 23, 2018
“The biggest concern for us is them being out of the water and sunburn, so we’ve got them covered and we’re trying to keep them as moist as we can. And the plan is to get an excavator down there and move the live ones to an area closer to where we are here—to the boat ramp—and hopefully refloat them and send them back out as a group,” she said.
Volunteers, many who saw the scene and just wanted to help, swam into the water with the whales.
“Most of us have been there all day,” Shannon Stent, one of the volunteers, told the ABC.
Officials also warned surfers that the whales could attract sharks.
“It is possible the dead and dying animals will act as an attractant, which could lead to sharks coming close into shore along this stretch of coast,” the state’s fisheries department said in a statement to the BBC.
In 2009, more than 80 pilot whales and dolphins became stranded at Hamelin Bay. The largest mass stranding of whales in the state was in 1996, when 320 long-finned pilot whales became beached.
Reuters contributed to this report