ROUGH seas whipped by strong winds today prevented the rescue of the last pilot whale still stranded after a group of dozens of whales and dolphins went aground on a beach in southern Australia, an official said.

The animal was among 54 whales and five bottlenose dolphins that rescuers refloated from Naracoopa Beach on Tasmania state’s King Island on Monday, said Chris Arthur of Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service.

However, one 10-foot (3-meter) adult female whale struggled to reach open sea last night, and so rescuers guided it back to the beach instead, Arthur said.

Two dozen rescuers kept the whale cool and upright beneath wet fabric today while waiting for a break in the winds exceeding 60 mph (100 kph) and wild seas.

“The weather is extreme,” Arthur told The Associated Press by telephone from the beach.

He said a decision was made late Tuesday to move the whale to the protected shallows of a nearby inlet for the night. A rescue attempt would be made Wednesday if conditions improve, he said.

“We don’t give any odds; while the animal is alive, there is a chance,” Arthur said of its survival prospects.

There was no longer any danger of the other rescued whales and dolphins returning to the beach, Arthur said.

A total of 194 pilot whales and seven dolphins became stranded Sunday evening – the fourth beaching incident in recent months in Tasmania. Up to 150 local volunteers helped wildlife experts keep dozens of the animals alive and to refloat them on Monday. The rest of the animals died.

It was not clear why the animals had beached on the island, halfway between Tasmania, an island state, and mainland Australia.
Strandings happen periodically in Tasmania as whales go by during their migration to and from Antarctic waters, but scientists do not know why it happens. It is unusual, however, for whales and dolphins to get stranded together.

In January, 45 sperm whales died after becoming stranded on a remote Tasmanian sandbar, even though rescuers worked for days to keep them cool and wet as they tried to move them back to the open water.

Last November, 150 long-finned pilot whales died after beaching on a rocky coastline in Tasmania. A week earlier, rescuers saved 11 pilot whales among a pod of 60 that had beached on the island state.