Sri Lanka’s navy and volunteers save 120 pilot whales after night rescue

A villager tries to push a pilot whale after being stranded on a beach in Panadura, Sri Lanka, photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte
A villager tries to push a pilot whale after being stranded on a beach in Panadura, Sri Lanka, photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Sri Lanka has saved around 120 pilot whales in an overnight rescue involving the navy, officials said Tuesday. Four pilot whales died during the rescue operation.

On Monday, the animals stranded on the beach on the country’s western coast at Panadura, 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of the capital Colombo.

A few whales had started beaching in the early afternoon, and their numbers increased to more than 100 by sunset, resident Pathum Hirushan told AFP.

“Some of the fishermen from the area tried to push back the whales. The sea was rough, and the waves would bring them back to shore,” Hirushan said. “It was very tiring, but later the navy came in with their boats and worked through the night.”

The navy and the coastguard, and dozens of volunteers were able to move the mammals into deeper waters with a small patrol boat by dawn on Tuesday, navy spokesman Indika de Silva told AFP.

The causes of mass strandings remain unknown despite scientists studying the phenomenon for decades.

In September, 360 out of 470 pilot whales that beached in a remote harbor in Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania died. Authorities in Sri Lanka feared the worst on Monday, but luckily they were able to save almost all stranded pilot whales.

Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority had said Monday that the Panadura stranding was the South Asian country’s largest.

The last mass beaching in Sri Lanka was in June 2017 when 20 pilot whales were stranded at a beach in the coastal town of Sampur near Trincomalee harbor in the country’s northeast. All were saved.

A sperm whale was stranded inside Trincomalee harbor in April 2011. Two navy boats guided him out into deeper waters where he was reunited with waiting whales.

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