Chris Arthur, who coordinated the rescue effort, said 11 of the 64 animals found stranded on the island’s north coast on Saturday were released after a day-long effort which involved relocating them by road to another beach.
“We have successfully released 11 animals out to sea,” Arthur told Reuters by telephone. “The last one went out less than 20 minutes ago.”
While the possibility that the animals would strand themselves again could not be ruled out, he said, the hope was that they would instead join up with other pilot whales in the ocean.
“We have had a reasonable outcome. They will form a small pod. We have given them the best chance they have got,” said Arthur, a regional officer with the Tasmanian state parks and wildlife service.
The maternal pod of 64, around one-third of them juveniles, were found stranded on Saturday at Anthony’s Beach at Stanley on the island’s northwest coast, a site where repeated strandings have occurred in the past.
Although most could not be saved, a team of around 65 people battled throughout much of Sunday to move 12 survivors 17 kilometers by road in trailers to another beach to try to return them to the sea. One whale died en route.
Mass strandings of whales occur periodically in Australia and New Zealand for reasons that are not entirely understood.
Although wildlife officials and volunteers have often tried to save stranded whales, relatively few attempts have been successful.