Rescue efforts to save whales stranded on a sandbar take place at Macquarie Harbour, near Strahan, Tasmania, Australia, Sept. 22, 2020.
Rescue efforts to save whales stranded on a sandbar take place at Macquarie Harbour, near Strahan, Tasmania, Australia, Sept. 22, 2020. (AAP Image/The Advocate Pool, Brodie Weeding)

Australian wildlife rescue teams said Tuesday they were able to free at least 25 of about 270 pilot whales stranded in a remote area off the west coast of the Australian island of Tasmania and hoped to rescue more.

The rescue operation, led by Australia's Parks and Wildlife Department, got underway early Tuesday after the whales were discovered stranded Monday on two sandbars in Macquarie Harbor, near the west coast town of Strahan, about 200 kilometers northwest of the Tasmanian state capital, Hobart.

Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service Manager Nic Deka told reporters a third of the whales were likely to have died.

The rescue effort involved more than 65 state park workers, fishermen and volunteers navigating icy waters and attaching the animals to slings and moving them out of the harbor and into deeper water using boats.

A pod of whales, believed to be pilot whales, is seen stranded on a sandbar at Macquarie Harbour, near Strahan, Tasmania, Australia. (AAP Image/The Advocate Pool, Brodie Weeding)

Wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon said the stranding is believed to be a natural event and said any whales they can save should be considered a “win.” He said with these whales there is always a danger of a re-stranding.

Pilot whales are a large species of dolphin and grow to about seven 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, which some scientist attribute to their strong social connections and persistence to remain together in a crisis.