While the mystery of why so many short-finned pilot whales are being washed up on the beaches of Thoothukdi on the extreme southern Tamil Nadu coast is yet to be examined in detail, more such whales are still swimming into the shallow waters and facing death on the sands. Scientists and wildlife wardens have various theories on why these sociable creatures, which refuse to leave the pod in any circumstance, are, in a way, committing suicide. Those being helped back into deeper waters are said to be still swimming in a disoriented manner, widening the scope for wild theories, including by opponents of the adjacent Kudankulam nuclear power plant who blame it on warming of water used to cool the reactors. As many as 147 whales were said to have perished in this manner on the same sandy beaches 40 years ago.
It is no consolation that the toll may be lesser this time because guesswork on the cause of the beaching varies from climate change to polluted waters, besides other outlandish theories about the phenomenon portending a natural disaster.
The great difficulty in containing the deaths is that all the beached mammals must ideally be pushed out to sea simultaneously as otherwise they will return to shore to be with their kind in distress. There is an urgent need to get to the bottom of this mystery. India must fly in international experts at once to help study the peculiar behavioural change and find ways to prevent a recurrence.