Page last updated at 18:34 GMT, Saturday, 30 May 2009 19:34 UK

Beached whales drama in S Africa

Efforts to rescue the stranded whales

South African rescue teams have managed to return to the water 20 false killer whales which beached near Cape Town but others have had to be put down.

Bulldozers were used to try to push the 55 adults and calves back into the water as high winds and waves hampered the rescue operation.

The whales, about 3m (10ft) long, are common to the waters off South Africa.

It is unclear how the mammals became stranded and some which were returned to the water swam back to the beach.

Craig Lambinon, a spokesman for the National Sea Rescue Institute, told Reuters news agency that he could not say how many whales would have to be killed.

Those who could not be saved were being shot humanely in the head.

BBC map

It was the first mass beaching of whales Mr Lambinon had seen on the popular beach at Kommetjie, near Cape Point.

"As soon as we put them back into the sea, they swim back to the beach again," he said earlier.

The NSRI initially identified them as pilot whales, but said later they were false killer whales, Reuters reports.

Rough seas also pushed some whales back ashore.

Volunteer helpers and onlookers flocked to the area, blocking the main approach road, reports say.

Your comments:

It was a sad situation, we tried to move them towards the sea, they would go and we would be all cheering and then they would come back towards the beach again. The sea was rough which made the whole process even more tiring for everyone. We tried to calm them down and they did as soon as we touched them, they looked at us with their incredible eyes as if to say 'what is happening to us?' There was nothing we could do. The volunteers really tried hard. It was very sad indeed.
Celine, Kommetjie

As a volunteer on the scene, I am deeply impressed by the goodwill of local residents who pitched in to help. Still, I feel that we could have done better. Although most whales washed up on the beach, there were many washing up on the rocks to the south of the beach. There seemed to be little communication or co-ordination between the various teams tending to the whales - especially in the late afternoon. Volunteer civilians risked themselves in rocky, rough waters with little assistance or direction from the NSRI or other experts. Confusion reigned as to the best course of action. In addition, the public were told to stay away completely, yet volunteers were exhausted and in need of replacement volunteers in the water. When the shooting began, a wave of panic and sadness swept the crowd. It seems a tragedy of epic scale to work for hours on end, only to have the whales return to shore and be shot. We'd all love to know what drove them out of the water. We're all left wondering - is man(un)kind responsible?
Candice Pelser, Cape Town South Africa

Print Sponsor

Mass whale stranding in Tasmania
02 Mar 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Beached whales die in Australia
30 Nov 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Counting whales: A fluky business
26 Jun 08 |  Science & Environment

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific