Pooling their manpower and expertise in a joint overnight operation, Sri Lanka’s navy, coast guard, local volunteers and conservation experts have rescued nearly 120 stranded whales back into the deep sea.
On Monday afternoon, residents of Panadura — some 25 km south of Colombo on the island’s west coast — reported sighting a school of whales by the shore. Within hours the Sri Lankan navy and Coast guard deployed nearly 70 personnel to the spot. “With conservation experts guiding us and many local volunteers helping, the team was able to pull back the whales into the deep waters, using jet skis,” Navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva told The Hindu.
However, three whales and one dolphin were found dead along the shore, said Dharshani Lahandapura, chairperson of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), following the unprecedented mass stranding in the country.
Locals played a crucial part in rescuing the whales, battling crashing waves in the dark, noted Sri Lankan marine biologist Asha de Vos said in a social media post, that likened the whales’ plight to “being stuck in a treadmill”. Sharing updates from the spot, she said: “If they [locals] looked like they were wrestling the animals it is because they were doing everything in their power to manage animals that were between 10-18 feet, weighing in at 1000-3000 kg. The animals were fatigued and stressed, they were smashing their tails around – which was risky for the people in the water.”
According to MEPA authorities, the marine mammals were short-finned pilot whales, that are said to be found in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.