(VIDEO) Largest whale stranding in Sri Lanka draws epic volunteer rescue effort

(VIDEO) Largest whale stranding in Sri Lanka draws epic volunteer rescue effort

Reporting by Chevaan Daniel, Zulfick Farzan, Staff Writer Written by Staff Writer

03 Nov, 2020 | 10:07 am

Colombo (News 1st);  When over a hundred ‘Pilot Whales’ began stranding themselves last afternoon along the Panadura beach in West Sri Lanka, it looked like a foregone conclusion that it would prove to be fatal to most. Amidst a dangerous Covid-19 second-wave, the incident presented myriad challenges if a rescue was to be planned.

Local volunteers race against the clock to save the stranded pilot-whales

By afternoon, Coast Guard Life Savers and the fishing community began pushing back the animals into the open ocean, despite their large numbers and this effort drew the attention of concerned citizens who began to arrive at the scene to support the rescue. At first, this looked a hopeless, futile attempt. But even though daylight waned, the volunteer’s efforts did not.

 The scene turned into a full-fledged rescue operation by nightfall, with members of the Sri Lanka 4X4 Club reaching the location to offer much-needed support by flood-lighting the operation area. By midnight, the ragtag teams of volunteers that included members of Sri Lanka Army, Navy, The Coast Guard, Sri Lanka Life Saving, A-PAD, and Gammadda V-Force were able to return most of the stranded whales back into the open ocean.

This was done by physically pushing the animals over the rough surf and then securing them to a Jet Ski using a rescue rope, that hauled them over the reef. After this, the whales were transferred to a boat that took them out into the open ocean where they were released. This operation went on into the wee hours of the morning despite the unforgiving surf that made the initial breach extremely difficult.

News 1st’s Zulfick Farzan speaks to Chevaan Daniel on the Rescue Op. on YES 101

Experts at the scene were not able to pinpoint a reason for the stranding, not uncommon with this species of whale. Pilot Whales can weigh up to a tonne and live up to 50 years.

“With the help of local residents we tried to push them back into the ocean,” one local fisherman told News 1st “But they keep getting washed ashore. We got help from the navy to rescue these whales.”

The national Marine Environment Protection Authority (Mepa), whose officials were helping with the rescue operation, said it was the largest single pod of whales stranded in Sri Lanka.

Pilot whales, which can grow up to six meters (20ft) and weigh a tonne, are highly social.

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

“Why 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,” said Asha De Vos, Sri Lanka’s famed Marine Biologist.

Asha De Vos speaks to News 1st’s Senitha Senanayake on the mass beaching of pilot whales

News 1st is in possession of images of several pilot-whales that unfortunately, did not make it. However, News 1st decided not to publish those images due to the sensitivity. 

(This report covers events that took place on the night of 11-Nov 2020. Follow Newsfirst.lk for the latest updates on this story).

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