Australian officials say nearly 200 pilot whales are dead Thursday after stranding themselves on a beach in the island state of Tasmania south of the mainland.
Reports from the scene say rescue teams were still working to save at least 32 other animals that were part of the same group - or pod - of whales that stranded themselves on Tasmania's Ocean Beach Wednesday.
Rescuers release a stranded pilot whale back in the ocean at Macquarie Heads, on the west coast of Tasmania on Sept. 22, 2022. About 200 pilot whales died after stranding themselves on a beach on the rugged west coast of Tasmania.
State wildlife officials say rescue crews worked most of the day to push the animals - which can weigh up to a metric ton - back out to sea. But Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service officials say pounding surf on the beach overnight was too much for many of the stranded animals.
Tasmanian environment department marine biologists Sam Thalman told the French news agency AFP that Ocean Beach and nearby Macquarie Harbor are global hotspots for mass whale strandings.
The same beach - exactly two years ago - was the scene of the largest mass whale stranding in the nation's history, when 470 pilot whales stranded themselves, with rescue teams able to save just more than 100 of them.
Earlier this week, about 14 young sperm whales died on a beach on nearby King Island.
Pilot whales are a large species of dolphin and grow to about 7 meters and can weigh up to three tons. They are social animals, traveling in pods of 10 to 20 animals but those groups can swell in size to hundreds.
The species is prone to mass strandings, and no one knows for sure what causes them. Some scientists believe pilot whales' strong social connections and persistence to remain together in a crisis drive them to follow one another into shallow waters.
Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.