Hopes were fading for the survival of any members of a pod of pilot whales beached off Co Donegal.
Locals at Ballyness Bay in Falcarragh spent yesterday battling to save the pod after they were spotted by a jogger at 8am.
Five of the whales perished on the beach but locals managed to drag the remaining mammals back out to sea. Three made it out to sea but at least six of the animals became stranded again.
The volunteers were assisted by Danny Kearney who began to move the whales using a JCB.
The rescuers were in a race against time as the tide was not due back in until around 4pm.
Gareth Doherty, a members of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, who also owns the Selkie Sailing Company, managed, along with a number of volunteers, to usher the whales back out the inlet to safety. However, just after 4.30pm the whales appeared again in shallow waters and were beaching again.
Mr Doherty said: “I knew once we got to the them with the incoming tide that we stood a chance. It took a lot of effort but we managed to get them out into slightly deeper water and they began to make their way out the channel.
“As they did so another larger animal who was all of 100 metres away heard them calling and he made a huge effort to join them. It was amazing to see.”
Mr Doherty offered his own thoughts on what could have forced the whales to beach.
“We noticed that a number of the whales were missing teeth and other teeth were decaying badly.
“I believe this was a sign that some of them were ill. If the leader of the group had been sick, it may have lost its navigation methods and the other whales may have followed it and beached.
Thousands of people arrived at the beach throughout the day to witness the rescue.
Manager of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Dave Duggan, had earlier appealed to people to allow the animals die in peace. However, county councillor Seamú Ó Domhnaill, who was one of the first people on the scene, said he understood people’s natural reaction was to save the whales.
“It was a heroic effort by the local community and the natural reaction of people was to try and save these magnificent creatures.
It is now expected that officials from Donegal County Council will visit the scene today and make a decision on the disposal of the creatures.
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