ECONOMYNEXT – The scores of whales that were found stranded on the Panadura beach earlier today were pilot whales, a species known to strand for reasons not fully understood, leading marine biologist Dr Asha de Vos said.
Captioning an Instagram video she posted this evening, de Vos wrote: “We experienced a stranding event on the east coast a few years ago and in September 2020 Australia witnessed the largest pilot whale stranding event in its history with an estimated 470 whales stranding. Sadly not all survived. hy do they strand? We don’t fully know. But scientists assume it’s because of their highly social nature. If one animal strays too close to the coastline and gets pushed onto the beach by the waves, there is a high chance the others will follow.”
Social media footage that has gone viral showed locals and coastguards attempting to roll the whales back out to sea in what was evidently a well-intentioned attempt to rescue them.
Over 30 Whales 🐳 beached on Panadura Coast.Villagers, Police & Coast Guard managed to return them back to the sea successfully #LKA #SriLanka #Whales
Video – Shamila Rodrigo pic.twitter.com/G3KEs8tpfm
— Sri Lanka Tweet 🇱🇰 (@SriLankaTweet) November 2, 2020
Commenting on this, de Vos said: “Rescuing these animals is not just about rolling them out to sea again. It’s a little more complicated than that. It’s important to reflost (sp) the animals as soon as possible and guide them back to deeper waters or they will keep getting pushed back to shore. This causes them to fatigue. If they end up on the beach they must be kept wet (think towels) and their blow holes must not be obstructed.”
“These are not things that everyone realises, so asking an expert or involving an expert is always a good idea,” she added.
State Minister Kanchana Wijesekara, meanwhile, tweeted earlier that rescue operations headed by the Navy, the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) and other departments were under way.
Operations are underway by the SL Navy,Coast Guard,WildLife Dept, NARA, other Govt Agencies and Environmental Orgs to rescue a pod of #Whales and #Dolphins stranded on the Panadura Beach. Thank you to @RajapaksaNamal and others who called, msgd n coordinated in the rescue mission pic.twitter.com/z5fDnWqGws
— Kanchana Wijesekera (@kanchana_wij) November 2, 2020
According to de Vos, if the whales lie on the beach for more than a few hours, the animals are “as good as dead.”
“The weight of their bodies will crush their organs in the absence of the buoyancy of the water. In this case, the animals often need to be euthanised.”
“I ask you all repeatedly, if you hear about these events, contact me. My team and I can help,” she urged.
“This is what we are trained to do. This is why I exist. While the authorities may have it under control, we don’t have experience in this area and so a little advice goes a long way or it’s just too little too late,” she added, expressing her frustration about her inability to support the rescue efforts at the outset owing to the ongoing COVID-19 curfew.
“But I am doing everything I can, even in this curfew situation, to make a difference,” she said.
Update: Dr de Vos at the rescue site, speaking to NewsWire.
Meanwhile, another expert told EconomyNext earlier today that the short-finned pilot whales may be suffering from a nitrogen saturation.
Dr Terney Pradeep Kumara, General Manager of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), said the animals may be very seriously injured.
Kumara said they whales were showing signs of the effects of a deep dive probably forced by encountering ships using sonar.
“These whales navigate using sonar and when they encounter shipping which is also using sonar tend to dive deep to escape,” he said.
If they dive as deep as a kilometer they become saturated with nitrogen – a condition that deep divers sometimes get called “bends”, he explained.
“We can’t be certain until we carry out a postmortem examination,” said Kumara, adding that today’s incident is a rare occurrence.
The police, the coastguard and the Wildlife Department are on the scene and an MEPA team is “on the way,” Kumara said earlier this evening. (Colombo/Nov02/2020)