Australian wildlife officials began disposing of hundreds of dead pilot whales on Saturday after they concluded there was no hope of saving any more.
At the largest whale beach in the country, 470 whales were spotted on a wide sandbar last Monday when the rugged harbor of Macquarie, Tasmania was explored from the air.
After days of difficult and dangerous rescue attempts, Australian officials said they saved 108 whales, with the rest believed to have died.
The bodies of the dead whales were divided into groups and enclosed by water trees to keep them in one place and to be isolated from sharks and other predators.
Rob Buck, incident controller and manager of the Parks and Wildlife Service, said 15 whales have already been disposed of at sea, but disposal of the nearly 350 remaining mammals is likely to take at least several days.
“The collection and disposal is done with the support of aquaculture companies, whose equipment and expertise in the port is essential for a timely and effective result,” Buck said in a statement.
Once stranded, the whales only have a few days to survive because their organs – no longer surrounded by water – are damaged.
The cause of the bulk stranding has yet to be determined.
Download the NBC News App for breaking news and politics
Pilot whales have strong social bonds and even if only a few members of a pod deviate from course, the others often follow.
Most of the released whales, a gregarious species that live in deep waters, should “regroup” and recover from the traumatic event, officials said.