Nearly 150 dolphins became stranded on Ibaraki Beach in Japan on April 10, where dozens of people attempted to save the marine mammals.
Workers did their best to keep the dolphins moist, and some used slings to carry the stranded animals back to the water, but it appears only three were saved. Many of the creatures showed gashes along their bodies, suggesting predators may have attacked the animals prior to the time they were washed ashore.
The stranded animals were melon-headed whales, also called electra dolphins, and normally live in deep waters, making this occurrence puzzling to biologists studying the problem. Initial reports stated about 130 of the dolphins became stranded on the beach, but later estimates brought that figure upward. Around 50 members of the species beached themselves near the same location in 2011.
The dolphins came ashore on a beach located roughly 60 miles north of the capital city of Tokyo. Many of the rescue efforts were thwarted as animals once returned to the water washed back up on the beach. Several of the melon-headed whales quickly perished on the beach, and were buried nearby.
"We see one or two whales washing ashore a year, but this may be the first time to find over 100 of them on a beach," an official with the Japanese Coast Guard said.
Electra dolphins can grow to lengths between 6 and 9 feet, and the species is fairly common in waters off the coast of Japan.
Biologists are uncertain why the dolphins became stranded on the beach, although it is possible the animals became lost.
"Sonar waves the dolphins emit might have been absorbed in the shoals, which could cause them to lose their sense of direction," Tadasu Yamadao from the National Museum of Nature and Science said.
Dolphins are varieties of whales, and are usually considered among the most intelligent of all nonhuman animals. The government of Japan has continued to hunt pilot and minke whales, despite highly vocal international opposition. This hunting is conducted off the island nation's coast, as well as in waters off the coast of Antarctica, where killing of the animals is deemed scientific research. Despite this claim, meat from these marine mammals is commonly sold in Japan for human consumption.
An international court, ruling under the auspices of the United Nations, determined these activities in the Southern Ocean are a commercial enterprise hiding behind the guise of research, and ordered a halt to the practice. Officials in Tokyo later announced they would resume the hunt, in defiance of the legal order. Hundreds of dolphins in a bay off the coast of the whaling town of Taiji, in the southwestern part of the main island of Honshu, have also been slaughtered with the cooperation of the Japanese government.
Photo: Patrik Jones | Flickr