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Last Updated: Friday January 23 2009 14:05 GMT

Race to save stranded whales

Some of the stranded whales

The race is on to save the last few surviving sperm whales of a big group that got stranded on a sandbank off the coast of Australia.

The pod of 50 whales got washed up on Thursday, but by the time they were spotted most of them had already died.

Rescuers are now working around the clock trying to keep the five surviving whales alive by keeping their skin wet.

No-one knows why the whales got stuck, but it's thought they could have got caught out by the rough sea conditions.

A humpback whale's tail
They're not the first whales to get stranded in the area - others have also been caught out in the narrow channel between the south of Australia and Tasmania as they migrate to and from the Antarctic.

Getting the beached whales afloat again isn't easy.

They're so big and heavy, rescuers have to wait for the tides to help push them out to sea.

Marine biologist David Pemberton said they were not giving up just yet.

"We always have hope," he said. "We have a plan in place that will take a lot of luck with the tide and the weather but yes, we think we might be able to do something for them."