Heartbreaking photos from Indonesia show that dozens of short-finned pilot whales have beached themselves on the coast of the island of Java.
As of noon Thursday, nine whales had died from lack of oxygen, Ay Dewi Utari of the East Java Natural Resources Conservation Agency told The Jakarta Post.
Most of the surviving whales were able to free themselves and swim back to sea, while a few were helped by villagers working to rescue the animals, Reuters reports. Rescuers were covering some whales with tarps and pulling them out to the open ocean and using boats to drive others back out to sea.
There are multiple theories about how the whales ended up beached. Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency says that high winds and waves caused oxygen and salinity levels to drop, which caused the whales to migrate toward the water's surface, where strong currents forced them ashore.
The whales also may have been foraging for food in shallow water when strong currents made it impossible to get back to sea, Rosek Nursahid of animal advocacy group ProFauna Indonesia told the Jakarta Post.
And Dedy Isfandy, head of the local maritime and fisheries office, told the AFP that at first, only “one or two” whales were anywhere near the shore. He speculated those whales may have been sick and that the other whales followed them to shallow water to try to help them.
“When the tide fell, all of them were trapped,” he said.
After the dead whales undergo autopsies, local people plan to bury them.