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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 13:50 GMT
Japan battles to save beached whales
Beached whales, Oura, Japan
The whales were bleeding into the water
Officials in a southern Japanese town are struggling to save two beached whales, after 12 others died overnight.

Fourteen sperm whales were found alive in shallow water off the town of Oura on the southern island of Kyushu on Tuesday.

Japanese television pictures showed waves dark red with blood from the whales, as efforts to tow them back into the sea were delayed by strong wind and rough seas.

"We wish the weather permitted us to begin the rescue sooner

Yukizo Shimomura, town official
Local officials said thousands of residents were mobilised to join the rescue effort, and some of them had been at the scene all night.

Rescuers had to wait until afternoon high tide on Wednesday to launch a new rescue effort. Using a crane mounted on a boat, they managed to pull one of the whales to deeper water.

But as residents prepared for a second all-night vigil, an official said the second whale appeared to be dying.

Mystery accident

A town official, Yukizo Shimomura, said the whales' abdomens rubbed constantly against the gravel shore causing a lot of bleeding.

"We wish the weather permitted us to begin the rescue sooner," he said.

It is not known why the animals had run aground, but experts say bad weather or ear infections may have confused the whales, which rely on sound for communication.

Whale meat is served as a delicacy in some Japanese restaurants despite an international ban on commercial whaling.

Japan continues to hunt hundreds of whales each year for what it says are research purposes - critics say the programme is a cover for supplying food outlets.

Akihiko Shinomiya, a marine biologist at Kagoshima University on Kyushu, said the dead whales at Oura would not be eaten, although that is what happened early last century when a herd of whales was beached on the same coastline.

"In those days people shared the catch, but not today," he said. "We don't know what to do with dead ones that are so huge."

See also:

14 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Whale farm plan lambasted
08 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Japan's whale-seeking satellite
02 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia confronts Japanese whaler
14 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Greenpeace disrupts Japan whalers
18 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan admits trading whale votes
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