MAUMERE, Indonesia -- Indonesian officials say 46 pilot whales have beached themselves on a southern island. All but three have died.

Pramudya Harzani from the nonprofit Jakarta Animal Aid Network activists and local authorities were still trying to rescue the three surviving whales on Tuesday but they kept swimming back to shore.

He says he whales washed ashore late Monday in Raijua beach on Sabu, a small islet between Timor and Sumba islands in southern Indonesia.

District chief Gidon Bilibora says meat from the dead whales has been taken by locals for food, a common practice in the area.

Scientists believe the whales follow a group leader to shore when it gets sick, stranding them. Harzani says the stranding may have been partially caused by rapidly receding tides due to seasonal monsoons.

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