55 Pilot Whales beached at Kommetjie, South Africa

We were sickened by the sight of over 55 Pilot Whales that lay stranded and dying on Kommetjie beach in the Cape Peninsula this weekend. Nothing could be done to save the majority of these whales and it was extremely distressing to see them flailing their tails helplessly on the Beach.

According to news reports, the Pilot Whales started beaching themselves early on Saturday morning. Despite rough seas, freezing weather and strong currents, members of the local community teamed together with volunteers from four NSRI stations to try to return the whales back to the sea.

Six front-end loaders were also brought in to help return the whales to the ocean but many of those that were successfully returned either came straight back to shore or were washed onto beaches further up the coast.

The rescue efforts were thought to be prolonging the agony of the whales and Marine and Coastal Management scientist Mike Meyer decided to remove the helpless whales from the sea and halt the rescue attempts.

According to Craig Lambinon of the NSRI, about five had died from natural causes. It was eventually decided to euthenise those that could not be returned to the sea. In the end 34 of the whales were put out of their agony with a pistol shot to the head.

Nobody is quite sure what caused the whales to beach themselves and although sonar is often thought to be the reason, a spokesman for the South African Navy reported that this type of technology is not used in South Africa. Nan Rice, head of the Dolphin Action and Protection group said that the whales could have become stranded due to a navigational error.

Above photo: Nic Bothma / EPA

Link to photo slide show (Guardian, UK)