Chinese workers save 9 of 12 beached pilot whales with two back in wild and dead whales frozen for research

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Nine of the 12 whales beached in eastern China on Tuesday have been rescued and two were returned to the wild, according to Chinese media outlets.

The three whales that died will be frozen by a local seafood company and temporarily held before being used later for research, said a report in The Paper, an online media outlet on the mainland.

The other nine whales were transferred to one of three aquatic facilities near where they were found, beached on mudflats close to Linhai, a city near the ocean in Zhejiang province.

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Rescuers work to release a rescued pilot whale back into the ocean. CREDIT: The Paper.cn
Rescuers work to release a rescued pilot whale back into the ocean. CREDIT: The Paper.cn

Two of the whales were transported to a coastal park, two went to an aquarium and the other five are now at a company that specialises in breeding marine animals.

The two whales that went to the coastal park were deemed healthy at 9pm on Tuesday and were released back into the ocean. According to The Paper, workers drove the whales to a spot in the ocean where the water was over 15 metres (49 feet) deep and released them.

The team is now waiting for medical reports of the remaining seven pilot whales before deciding on the next plan of action.

Fishers first discovered the whales on the tidal flats at around 8am on Tuesday. The fishermen called the police and said that “there were a lot of big fish” on the mudflats, according to Qianjiang Evening News.

The police at first thought they were dolphins and started by contacting experts from a local aquarium. When aquarium staff arrived at the scene, they identified the animals as pilot whales, which are part of the dolphin family.

The beached pilot whales were discovered at around 8am on Tuesday and most were successfully moved off the beach in the same day. Photo: Handout
The beached pilot whales were discovered at around 8am on Tuesday and most were successfully moved off the beach in the same day. Photo: Handout

As it became clear that the animals were in trouble – it was over 30 degrees Celsius in the area – local residents covered the animals in sheets and blankets soaked in water to help them cool down and stay moist. The group also built canopies to protect the whales from the sun.

About 150 people have taken part in the rescue efforts, according to Xinhua.

Experts told China Daily that one theory is the whales swam too close to the coast during high tide because nearby food sources tempted them, and no fishing boats were disturbing the area. They were then stuck when the tide went out.

Pilot whales typically grow to be about 5-6.5 metres long (16 to 21 feet) and can weigh up to 3.2 tonnes. They tend to live for between 45 to 60 years.

In 2017, 12-metre-long (40 feet) sperm whale was spotted trapped in fishing nets in the waters near Shenzhen, Guangdong province. After it was freed, it kept swimming back to shallow waters and later died.

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