Eighteen dead melon-headed whales washed up on Mauritius’s shore on Wednesday, the country’s fisheries minister Sudheer Maudhoo said, dismissing any link to the devastating oil spill earlier this month.
An autopsy of the animals was carried out on Wednesday evening. He told a press conference that all 18 of the melon-headed whales, a member of the dolphin family, had died, but that there was “no trace of hydrocarbons on them or in their respiratory system”.
The dolphins, some of which were still alive when they were found and later died, were stranded on the south-eastern beaches of Grand Sable. Some of them had injuries.
Earlier this month, a Japanese ship crashed into a coral reef around 10 kilometers (six miles) from Grand Sable, spilling over 1,000 tonnes of fuel into the water. The broken body of the vessel was sunk in the open ocean on Monday.
Owen Griffiths of the Mauritius Marine Conservation Society told AFP “it is probably a very unfortunate coincidence”, referring to a similar stranding in 2005 when 70 melon-headed whales stranded in the same area.
“Likely they followed a school of fish into the lagoon, got confused, could not find their way out to sea again and tried to head out to sea directly over the coral reef instead of finding the pass. In their panic and stress, they collided with corals, became exhausted and died,” he said.
Greenpeace called in a statement for an “urgent investigation” into the cause of the strandings.
Authorities and experts from Japan and Britain are still investigating the true extent of the ecological damage to the island.