Tourists make grisly beach discovery

HEARTBREAKING images have emerged of the moment American tourists discovered dozens of dead whales washed up on a remote beach during a helicopter flight in Iceland.

The long-finned pilot whales were spotted by the tourists during a sightseeing tour flying over a beach in Longufjorur, in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, western Iceland, on Thursday, the BBC reports.

The pilot, David Schwarzhans, said he and his passengers counted the whales as they were flying.

"There might have been more," he said. "Some were already buried in the sand."

Some dozens of long-finned pilot whales lay dead on a remote beach in Iceland. Photo: David Schwarzhans via AP
Some dozens of long-finned pilot whales lay dead on a remote beach in Iceland. Photo: David Schwarzhans via AP

 

The group alerted police in the nearby town of Stykkisholmur. The beach where the stranded mammals were spotted can't be accessed by car and has very few visitors.

The grisly images were taken by the helicopter pilot, Mr Schwarzhans.

"We were flying northbound over the beach when we saw them. We were circling over it not sure if it was whales, seals or dolphins. We landed and counted about 60 but there must have been more because there were fins sticking out of the sand," he told the BBC.

"It was tragic and when we stood downwind it was smelly. It wasn't something nice to see and quite shocking since there were so many."

Marine biologist Edda Elisabet Magnusdottir told Iceland Monitor that pilot whales are often involved in mass strandings and "have a tendency to become disorientated" when they enter shallow waters and sloping, sandy ocean floors.

"There are numerous examples of them having beached where there is a such a sandy, sloping bottom," she told Iceland Monitor.

 

The whales were discovered by tourists sightseeing in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland aboard a helicopter. Photo: David Schwarzhans via AP
The whales were discovered by tourists sightseeing in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland aboard a helicopter. Photo: David Schwarzhans via AP

 

Ms Magnusdottir also added that due to their social nature, they don't often abandon members of their pod, which is why so many become stranded at once.

Pilot whales belong to the dolphin family and can grow up to six meters (20 feet) long and weigh as much as 3 tons (2.7 metric tons), with large populations of the species discoverable all over the world.

Just last year up to 145 pilot whales were found stranded on remote beach on Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura, in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) operations manager Ren Leppens said half the whales had already died by the time they were found and the remaining were euthanised.

"Sadly, the likelihood of being able to successfully refloat the remaining whales was extremely low," Leppens said.

"The remote location, lack of nearby personnel and the whale's deteriorating condition meant the most humane thing to do was to euthanise."

A major study conducted by 21 scientists has shined a light on the heartbreaking reason whales show suicidal behaviour and wash up on our beaches.

Their studies found the giant sea mammals suffer decompression sickness, just like scuba divers.

Beaked whales are known to be easily scared and are prone to become confused, especially when they hear sonar signals.

"In the presence of sonar they are stressed and swim vigorously away from the sound source, changing their diving pattern," said Yara Bernaldo de Quiros, a researcher at the Institute of Animal Health at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.

"The stress response, in other words, overrides the diving response, which makes the animals accumulate nitrogen," she added. "It's like an adrenaline shot."

One type of sonar in particular throws whales off balance.


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