MARINE rescuers fear up to 100 pilot whales could strand on South Uist.
Around 20 of the animals have injuries to their heads and there are fears that they may strand themselves.
Members of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) are arriving on the island today to assess the situation and they are ready to take action if the animals do strand.
BDMLR Scottish organiser Alasdair Jack, who was on the ferry heading for Uist, said: “We are relatively confident they are not in immediate danger. This morning they have moved and they are sitting in the same position as the whales were last year near the harbour at Loch Carnan.” He added that they would not be able to strand at this location but if they were to move round towards Benbecula causeway they would be in serious danger of stranding.
In October last year, a pod of whales were in the same location and although they left the site they were later found dead on an Irish beach.
Alasdair says up to 20 whales have head injuries and this is different to last year’s situation when the whales had no physical injuries.
“When they are in distress their family members will not leave them and it is in their nature to come ashore,” he said.
He said the team were heading for Uist today anyway as they were planning a marine rescue course, however this may now be training on the job if the whales are to strand.
If the animals strand, he said they would need a lot of local volunteers.
“If they do strand we have the equipment to try and save them but there is no doubt we could not save them all but we would give it a damn good go.”
Scottish SPCA Senior Inspector Calum Watt said, “We were alerted to the possibility of a mass stranding yesterday evening and are now co-ordinating with BDMLR.
“When pilot whales come inshore there is a very strong chance some among the group are sick or injured.We believe around 20 of these whales have severe head injuries but at this stage we aren’t sure of the cause.
“One possibility is these injuries were sustained during a previous attempt to strand themselves.
“Pilot whales have extremely strong social bonds, which sadly means healthy whales within the pod will follow sick and injured whales onto the shore.
“At this stage we remain hopeful they will not strand themselves but our concern is the injured whales will come onshore and be followed by the rest of the pod.
“Attempting to refloat so many whales would be a huge task and if they do become stranded we’ll need to decide upon the best course of action.
“The largest number of whales we’ve tried to refloat before was seven, which was in 1993. Unfortunately all seven returned to the shore and died.”
The pod is in Loch Carnan, where 35 pilot whales threatened to strand themselves in October last year. The whales did return to sea but were later found dead on the Irish coast.
“It is incredible that a second pod, this time probably more than twice the size, has arrived in the same area,” said SI Watt.
“There is no reason we know of why they would have come to the same location.”