A dozen melon-headed whales, a species of oceanic dolphin, have been found stranded by local snail pickers on the muddy shore of Taizhou, Zhejiang province.
Three died shortly after being found on Tuesday. Rescuers managed to keep the rest wet and cool before releasing two back to the ocean. The remaining seven were lifted to facilities belonging to a local aquaculture company and an aquarium to monitor and restore their health. Six of those were released on Wednesday night, but two died. The last one is still being monitored and treated in a facility, as of Thursday.
There are several causes for mass strandings, including disruption of cetaceans’ echolocation by naval sonars and the tendency of the pod to follow weak and distressed members of their group. The main cause of the Zhejiang incident may never be ascertained. But the unprecedented rescue effort, and the intensive news coverage of it, similar to the recent case of 15 wandering elephants, will keep people asking why humans are having more unexpected and unsettling encounters with wild animals and what they can do about it.
Mass cetacean strandings are not rare globally – last year, nearly 500 pilot whales were beached in a single event in Australia – but there have been very few such events recorded in China. The last was as recently as June, when six stranded bottlenose dolphins were rescued in Fujian. In 2012, four beached sperm whales died in Jiangsu. A marine biologist said in a news report on that incident that it was only the second whale mass stranding case in China, with the first in 1985.