More than forty pilot whales die on Indonesian beach

Locals try to lift a pilot whale in Indonesia. photo: Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/ via Reuters
Locals try to lift a pilot whale in Indonesia. photo: Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/ via Reuters

Forty-six whales died on a beach on the Indonesian island of Madura. Rescuers were able to push three back out to sea, the provincial governor said on Friday.

A rescue effort started on Thursday after dozens of pilot whales beached. Local residents and officials were knee-deep in water trying to splash water on the animals and push them to deeper water.

Sometimes they succeeded, but the animals came back and beached again. “Some came back here, trying to find their mothers, though it turns out the mothers were dead,” East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa said.

Cause of mass stranding
Pilot whales, who can grow up to six meters (20 feet) long and weigh up to a tonne, are highly social. The causes of mass strandings remain unknown despite scientists studying the phenomenon for decades.

Some researchers think that pilot whales can go off track after being attracted by food close to the shoreline, or sometimes they follow a leader or gather around an injured or distressed whale.

Olaf Meynecke, a whale researcher at Australia’s Griffith University, said pilot whales use sophisticated sonar to find prey and for orientation, so some theories link strandings to changes in electromagnetic fields.

“These changes can be caused by solar storms or earthquakes (seismic activities), but there is also a strong connection between active sonar, for example naval sonar, and dolphin strandings, including pilot whales,” Meynecke said.

Parawansa told Reuters authorities planned to bury the dead whales on Saturday.

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