470 whales stranded, many feared dead, in one Australia’s biggest beachings

Rescuers trying to free a pod of whales beached off the Australian island of Tasmania said on Wednesday they had found another 200 stranded mammals, bringing the total to 470 and making it one of the country’s biggest beachings.

As a rescue effort began its third day off the southern island’s rugged west coast, rescuers said they spotted another large group of pilot whales during an aerial reconnaissance of remote Macquarie Harbour, and most were believed to be dead.

“They didn’t look to be in a condition that would warrant rescue,” said Nic Deka, a regional manager of Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service, at a news conference.

“Most of them appeared to be dead. If they can be saved we’ll send crews over there to do that.”

The discovery makes it Australia’s biggest beaching in modern times, and draws attention to a natural phenomenon which scientists say has no known cause.