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South African whales put down

SOUTH African authorities yesterday began the grim task of removing the carcasses of 55 whales that beached themselves and had to be shot despite the frantic rescue efforts of hundreds of volunteers.

Police had to put down 44 of the exhausted false killer whales to end their suffering, prompting scuffles with distraught locals desperate to save them. The rest died of stress and organ failure and the bodies of three whales who were initially thought to have escaped washed up overnight.

Ian Klopper of the National Sea Rescue Institute said a boat was sent to recover the carcass of a whale stuck on rocks near the beach at Kommitjie.

Authorities warned surfers to be careful of great white sharks circling in search of any remaining bodies.

The whales started beaching early on Saturday morning. Hundreds of people wearing wet suits against the bitter cold braved high winds and rough waves to try to push them back to sea with the midmorning high tide. But they kept swimming back to the beach.

Authorities considered transporting the mammals, which weigh about 1.5 tons, by truck to the nearby deep-water naval base at Simons Town, but then decided the health of the whales had deteriorated too much and that the only solution was to kill them with a single shot to the brain.

Gunshots rang out across the long, rain-drenched beach as police desperately tried to clear the area of onlookers who had flocked to the shores.

Authorities advised anybody traumatized by the operation to seek counseling.

Nan Rice of the Dolphin Action and Protection Group said the decision to kill the whales was only taken after it became clear the animals would not survive the night on the beach.


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