Mass beaching of pilot whales on Donegal strand

(Picture: Mary McIntyre via Twitter)

Locals in Donegal launched a rescue operation this morning after a pod of 13 pilot whales was stranded on a beach in the north of the county.

The animals were discovered this morning by a dog walker on the back strand at Falcarragh.

Subsequent attempts by locals to return the whales to the sea saw nine of them successfully refloated, but experts warn that they are likely to return, despite the best efforts of locals.

"I got a call around 9am this morning to say the whales were on the beach," said Donegal County Councillor Seamus O´Domhnaill, who coordinated the rescue attempt.

"Initially we didn't know what to do, as this was totally new to us.

"However we managed to organise a JCB, pulleys and ropes to pull the whales back into the water."

Cllr O´Domhnaill said nine of the whales were successfully refloated, however four did not survive.

Of those that survived, "three or four of them made it out into deep water while five or six of them are still in the bay," Cllr O'Domhnaill said.

(Picture: Mary McIntyre via Twitter)

As word spread of the operation on the beach, more people gathered to help, with Cllr O'Domhnaill estimating that as many as 400 peope may have been on the strand this morning.

However, following advice from experts at the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the rescue operation has now been suspended and locals are advised to stay away from the beach.

"What they (National Parks and Wildlife) told us was that when pilot whales beach like this, they will inevitably all die," Cllr O'Domhnaill said.

"In fact I have just heard now of some of the whales beaching again on another strand in the bay.

"We are advised that the best thing to do now is to leave them alone, rather than to prolong their death."

The cetaceans have been confirmed by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group as long-finned pilot whales.

" Even with pleny of help, experience and specialised equipment (ie pontoons) it is a difficult undertaking to successfully refloat animals this size," said a statement from the IWDG.

"Latest reports indicate that the animals which have been refloated are in poor condition and unable to keep themselves upright in the water and are now getting washed in further along the beach.

" This is consistent with cetaceans which have been on the beach for some time as bodyweight becomes a serious issue when removed from the neutral buoyancy provided by seawater."

This is the 13th stranding reported from Donegal in 2014 and the second live stranding.

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