Thursday 18 December 2014

Hopes fade for whales after they get stranded for a second time in Donegal

Published 07/07/2014 | 18:23

Three of the 13 whales that have been stranded on a beach off Donegal
Three of the 13 whales that have been stranded on a beach off Donegal

Whales from a pod which became stranded twice on a beach in Donegal have little chance of survival, experts have said.

Thirteen long-finned pilot whales first beached near Falcarragh some time overnight before a group of about 100 locals managed to return nine to shallow waters.

Three of the 13 whales that have been stranded on a beach off Donegal
Three of the 13 whales that have been stranded on a beach off Donegal

Four of those that originally came ashore died on the beach.

But a number of whales which were initially rescued, most about five metres long, stranded a second time several hours later around high tide further along the beach on Ballyness Bay.

Screengrab image taken from the Twitter feed of @BarryWhyte85 of  six of the 13 whales that have been stranded on a beach off Donegal
Screengrab image taken from the Twitter feed of @BarryWhyte85 of six of the 13 whales that have been stranded on a beach off Donegal

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) warned that the re-floated whales were likely to be in poor condition, with stiffened muscles, unable to keep themselves upright in the sea and confused and disorientated.

"If you could pluck them out of there and set them gently into deep water and hold them their until their muscles relaxed they'd have some chance," IWDG member Mick O'Connell said.

"People are bringing them out and the water is only four or five feet deep. They are not going to make a beeline for the deep water, chances are they do not know where it is."

One of the whales, which was initially returned safely, appeared to have blemishes and lumps on its skin suggesting it may have been ill and led the pod into the shallow waters the first time.

The natural environment for a long-finned pilot whale is in a pod, in deep water, out near the continental shelf in the Atlantic.

Mr O'Connell said the creatures' echo-location may also be hampered by the shallow waters on the gently sloping beach off Falcarragh and that it is extremely difficult to save a pod of whales, even with the right equipment.

Seamus O'Domhnaill, a local councillor involved in the rescue, said the whales' conditions seemed to improve initially as the tide came in around them but later they appeared to be attempting to beach a second time.

"It's not something you want to see everyday," he said.

The first stranding was discovered at around 8am and the second at around 4pm.

In the first rescuers tied ropes to the back fins of the five metre long whales and dragged them off the sand into shallow waters, staying with them until they revived.

It is not known why whales beach.

A post mortem within 24-48 hours would be the only way of telling if one or all of the pod had been struck by an illness.

The Irish Coast Guard tasked a boat to the beach on Ballyness Bay due to the large numbers of people involved in the rescue efforts and others arriving to look at the dead and stranded whales.

The IWDG said the incident is the 13th stranding reported on Donegal shores this year.

There has only been one other live stranding in the county when a harbour porpoise was refloated at Lough Foyle in February.

Live strandings of pods of pilot whales are not unknown but relatively rare with one of the last major incidents in Ireland in November 2010 when 33 pilot whales live stranded and died at Rutland Island, Co Donegal.

The IWDG, which was alerted to the incident, said even with plenty of help, experience and specialised equipment such as pontoons, it is difficult to successfully refloat creatures that size.

Mr O'Domhnaill praised the spirit of the locals despite their efforts appearing to be in vain.

"This was a sign of community activism. There were about 100 people on the beach, some helping, some not, but none of us with much experience of this," he said.

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