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Monday, June 1, 2009

Fifty-five whales stranded on S.African beach

Fifty-five whales stranded on S.African beach

Fifty-five whales stranded on S.African beach Members of the public and officials walk past one of dozens of pilot whales beached at Kommetjie near Cape Town, May 30, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

KOMMETJIE BEACH, South Africa (Reuters) - About 55 whales were stranded on a beach near Cape Town on Saturday and high waves were hampering efforts by rescue teams to get them back into the water.

Volunteers and marine scientists worked to save the whales shortly after the adults and calves first came ashore in bad weather at 1:30 a.m. EDT (0530 GMT), said Craig Lambinon, spokesman for the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).

Rescuers were trying to keep the whales wet and were using earth-moving equipment including front-end loaders to try to get some of them back into the sea, he told Reuters.

"It's an ongoing operation and the whales are also being pushed ashore by the high waves," he said.

Radio station 702 reported that three of the whales had been confirmed dead and that others were struggling to survive.

Lambinon said it was still unclear why the whales had come ashore, adding it was the first mass beaching of whales he knew of on the popular beach.

Whale-watching along the coast of South Africa is a popular attraction with tourists, who often line roads at strategic spots to catch a glimpse of the giants of the ocean.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Mike Hutchings, Writing by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Charles Dick)