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Officials baffled over mysterious beaching of 80 short-finned pilot whales

Officials are baffled over the beaching of 80 short-finned pilot whales in India.
Officials are baffled over the beaching of 80 short-finned pilot whales in India.

Heartbreaking images and video have surfaced from India where 80 short-finned pilot whales inexplicably washed ashore on the southern coast of India, leaving officials baffled as to the reason why.

Fishermen began noticing the short-finned pilot whales washing up on beaches Monday night and launched a rescue mission.

Ravi Kumar, a top government official in the southeastern port town of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu state, told The Associated Press that rescuers towed at least 36 of the short-finned pilot whales back to sea, but that they appeared to become disoriented and found their way back to the beach.

The Indian Express reported that more than 250 whales were stranded in shallow water but were pushed back to deep water after several hours of effort.

“This is an unusual thing … an unusual mortality incident,” a marine scientist for the Tuticorin Fisheries Department told The Indian Express. “We have to find out the reason.”

The tragedy is under investigation.

Here is footage from Caters News, which reported as many as 100 stranded pilot whales:

Kumar said that short-finned pilot whales travel in groups or pods and become confused in the absence of a leader.

“There could be many reasons [why the whales washed ashore],” Amal Xavier, assistant director of Tuticorin Fisheries Department, told The Indian Express. “Navy sonars could have caused it … or pollution … the reason is not immediately known and we don't want to speculate.”

Efforts to rescue the beached whales were noble but mostly futile, according to whale expert Kumaran Sathasivam. He told the BBC that it is difficult to rescue stranded whales because they need to be returned to the sea at the same time, according to the Daily Mail.

“Otherwise, they will return to be with the whale that is in distress,” Sathasivam said. “The whales emanate a sound that is not audible to human beings and that makes them return to the shore.

“Also, because of their weight they are not able to get back into the water and their bodies gets overheated, and they die on the shore. You need to constantly pour water on them because their bodies are covered in a layer of fat.”

The last time these same Indian beaches experienced a mass whale beaching was in 1973.

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