Beached whale rescue bid ends with 44 animals dead

May 31st, 2009 - 8:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, May 31 (DPA) A desperate attempt to rescue dozens of pilot whales that washed up on a Cape Town beach in stormy seas ended with 44 out of 55 whales having to be euthanised, a marine scientist said Sunday.
“We euthanised 42, and another two were euthanised during the night (Saturday night),” Marine and Coastal Management scientist Mike Meyer was quoted by the South African Press Association (SAPA) as saying.

Around 55 pilot whales, large members of the dolphin family, washed up on Kommetjie beach in Cape Town shortly after dawn Saturday. It was not clear what caused the mass landing but one dolphin expert said she believed they had suffered navigational errors.

Three had died by late afternoon as National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) volunteers and marine scientists battled to collect them across a wide section of beach and get them back to sea, using municipal front-end loaders.

But as soon as they were returned to the surf, the whales, which measure between four and six metres in length, kept pointing their noses for shore.

Nan Rice, head of the Dolphin Action and Protection group told SAPA the decision to euthanise the whales with a bullet through the head was taken after it became clear the animals would not survive the night on the beach.

“They were weakening already. The animals wouldn’t have been able to swim out,” she said, expressing fears that had the whales been left on the beach for the night, they might have been butchered by meat thieves.

“If we’d had better weather, we could have been much more successful,” she said.

Rice blasted what she called the “hysterical” public response to the decision to put down the whales and said onlookers had hindered the rescue effort by flooding the beach and surrounding roads, blocking access.

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