THOOTHUKUDI: Fishermen in Thoothukudi district were stunned to see over 100 small-finned pilot whales battling for life on the beaches between Manapad and Kallamozhi on Tuesday morning. At the time of going to press, 45 of them had died. The toll may rise as the beached mammals refused to return to sea, claimed the fishermen.
Whale beaching in the area started on Monday evening and over 30 of them were spotted on the Kallamozhi shores at night. Following this, the fishermen tried hard to push them back into the sea.
Despite their enormous weight, the fishermen succeeded in getting 21 whales to go into the sea and returned home. However, they found more whales along the Manapad beach in the morning. Of the 39 mammals washed ashore in Manapad, 24 died while the rest were assisted to return to the sea.
On seeing their condition, the fishermen said they would be beached again only to die a pathetic death.
Dinesh, a fisherman from Manapad, said it was the first time he has come across mass whale beaching. “I have seen them only in deep sea,” he said, attributing the reason to changes in water current.
Murugan, head of Marine Ecology and Conservation Department, VOC College, Thoothukudi, said the pilot whales venture in groups with one of them guiding the school. “They may have become disoriented due to sonar interference or may have been hit by a large vessel. There is also the possibility of them getting diverted towards shallow waters thus becoming vulnerable,” he added.
This, perhaps, was not the first time whales were spotted in large numbers in Manapad. According to Murugan, 147 pilot whales were spotted at the same place on January 14, 1973, with many of them perishing. Tissue samples should be collected and examined to ascertain the cause of their death, he added. District forest officer Raju, who was involved in the rescue operation, said they tried to send the mammals back but they resurfaced in the beach.
Marine biology experts are carrying out a detailed study into the large-scale beaching. As the news spread, people from nearby villages thronged Manapad. They were seen taking selfies with the deceased mammals.
Pollution taking a toll?
The most common reasons for whale beaching include pollution, changes in weather and parasites affecting their internal navigation mechanism
In some cases, when one of the mammals becomes sick and stranded, it lets out distress calls which could cause the entire pod to respond
When they beach, the whales often die due to dehydration