By Lorna Siggins, Marine Correspondent, and Anne Lucey
More than 20 pilot whales, including up to four young
calves, were back at sea yesterday after they survived
a dramatic beaching on the Kerry coastline.
However, 18 whales died when they became stranded
on Saturday morning at Aughacasla Strand near the
Several hundred people joined the Fenit lifeboat and
the Dingle Coast Guard over the weekend to try and
rescue the cetaceans and persuade them to return to sea.
Mr Kevin Flannery of the Department of the Marine believed the survivors may also owe their lives to the birth of a calf. The Fenit lifeboat was nudging its mother back to sea on Saturday evening when the calf emerged, a scene which was witnessed by the lifeboat coxswain and crew.
"Up to that stage, those that were back in the water had scattered, but they herded together when they knew she was giving birth and followed her out. It shows the level of social bonding they enjoy, a bonding which probably caused the stranding in the first place," Mr Flannery said.
The 39 whales beached at Aughacasla Strand on Friday night and the alert was raised on Saturday morning. It is believed that they were following a bull whale which got into difficulty and were caught on a falling tide.
More than 100 people from Aughacasla and Castlegregory assisted the rescue services by pouring sea water over the marine mammals to keep them moist. Using a Himac and slings, the whales were lifted into the water and moved offshore by teams from the Fenit lifeboat, the Dingle Coast Guard and Civil Defence.
Kerry County Council and the Civil Defence buried the dead whales on the beach and two bodies were taken for autopsy. Yesterday 10 which were sighted near the shore in Tralee Bay were escorted out again by the Fenit lifeboat. The four calves were reported to be together and the school showed no signs of stress.
Mr Flannery said more could have been saved had Marine been alerted earlier. He appealed to people to contact the whale and dolphin society at Dingle Ocean World directly at (066) 915 2111. Valentia Coastguard also appealed to the public to contact them at (066) 947 6109 if such a phenomenon recurs.
© The Irish Times