Eighteen whales die on beach after leader swims into shallows

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The Independent Online

Eighteen whales have died after a large school followed their sick leader into shallows off the County Kerry coastline in south-west Ireland.

Eighteen whales have died after a large school followed their sick leader into shallows off the County Kerry coastline in south-west Ireland.

Marine experts and a lifeboat crew succeeded in getting 17 more of the pilot whales out to sea during rescue attempts off the Dingle peninsula over the weekend. The crew was helped when one of the whales gave birth to a calf as she was being led from the shallows. The birth seemed to galvanise the disorientated animals, which gathered together and swam into deeper water.

The whales appeared in Tralee Bay on Saturday in an incursion not seen in the area for 30 years. Eighteen of them, ranging from 10 to 14 feet long, beached themselves near Aughasla and died, leaving another 17 struggling in a few feet of water. Crew from a nearby RNLI station at Fenit used an inshore lifeboat to get close to the mammals and haul them out of the shallows. The crew then shepherded them away into open water. When a female gave birth in the middle of the operation they regrouped around her and swam off.

Seven whales, possibly including the day-old calf, returned to shallow waters yesterday, but did not become stranded. The lifeboat crew was able to lead them out to sea again. The 18 dead whales were buried on the sandy shore.

Gerard O'Donnell, secretary of the Fenit lifeboat station, said: "We think one of the whales was injured and came ashore to die. They're normally in much deeper water but they're like a big family and they came in too. These things touch you. They're beautiful, beautiful animals."

Pilot whales, which are part of the dolphin family, are relatively common in British and Irish waters. The beaching comes a month after more than 120 dolphins died on the Brittany coastline in France.

Whale and dolphin experts said dozens of animals have been washed up dead on both sides of the Channel and blamed the deaths on the aggressive pursuit of seabass by French fishermen.

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