MARINE EXPERTS were turning to the sad task yesterday of disposing of 56 pilot whales that either perished or had to be put down after beaching along the shoreline of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, over two days.
The heartbreaking episode, which drew hundreds of volunteers and holidaymakers to the water's edge to try to keep the animals alive and steer them back into the ocean with each high tide, counts as the worst mass beaching of pilot whales since 60 died on Cape Cod in 1986.
The strandings began on Monday when a pod of whales appeared on a sandy beach near the resort town of Dennis on the western side of Cape Cod, facing the mainland. While some animals perished that day, most were successfully redirected into the water.
Celebrations among the volunteers, who had swathed the animals in wet towels and blankets to protect them from scorching temperatures and a searing sun, were shortlived, however. On Tuesday, 45 whales reappeared on a muddy marsh a little further north up the western shore. While "Dead" was scrawled on the sides of a few whales that quickly succumbed, about 300 people refloated most of the whales for a second time.
But by nightfall on Tuesday, they were back ashore and the decision was taken to put down the survivors. Many were in shock, suffering from sunburn and dying already as their internal organs started to fail.
"After two days of trying to give these animals any opportunity we could, a decision was made by the veterinarians on site to euthanise those animals that weren't already dead," Tony LaCasse of the New England Aquarium said. …