(DailyVantage.com) – A group of pilot whales were found huddled together in the shallow waters of a beach in Western Australia before stranding themselves last week, forcing rescuers to race against time to save them, the New York Times reported.
According to marine mammal ecologist Kate Sprogis of the University of Western Australia, such huddling together in shallow waters is “really unusual” for healthy pilot whales.
By last Tuesday, the pod of nearly 100 pilot whales had rushed toward the shore, stranding themselves on the beach as rescuers attempted to get them back to the water.
Once the multi-ton whales are out of the water, their organs gradually get crushed under their own weight, according to researchers. Even if the whales are successfully rescued and returned to the water, they will often re-strand themselves on the beach.
According to authorities, by Wednesday, 52 of the whales were dead, but a team of volunteers and conservation officials were able to move the remaining 45 whales back into the water and try to herd them out to sea using kayaks and boats.
But by the afternoon, the rescued whales were stranded again further along the beach. Officials later revealed that the surviving whales had to be euthanized. Parks and Wildlife Service official Peter Hartley told reporters on Thursday that euthanizing the survivors was “one of the hardest decisions” in his 34 years in wildlife management.
Researchers are uncertain why mass whale strandings occur.
According to Dr. Sprogis, one theory is that when the matriarch of the pod is ill and swims to shallow water, the rest of the pod will follow due to the tight-knit bonds of a pod. She said loud offshore noise disorienting the pod may also be another reason for mass strandings.
Dr. Sprogis said they still don’t know why the whales huddled in the shallows before beaching themselves last week. She said this is generally not the behavior pilot whales display when a stranding is imminent.
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