PORT LOUIS: At least nine melon-headed whales washed up on the shores of Mauritius on Wednesday, prompting speculation of a link to an oil spill earlier this month.

The whales, some of which were still alive when they were found and later died, were stranded on the south-eastern beaches of Grand Sable, and some of them appeared to have injuries.

Local government official Preetam Daumoo said he had seen 13 dead whales and one still alive. Authorities loaded some of the bodies into the back of a van to be taken for autopsies.

Daumoo, like other residents, said he feared the stranding was a result of an oil spill earlier this month after a Japanese-owned bulk carrier ran aground on a coral reef around 10 kilometres (six miles) from Grand Sable, spilling over 1,000 tonnes of fuel into the pristine waters.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

The broken stem of the vessel was sunk in the open ocean on Monday.

However experts said it was too soon to say what had caused the deaths of the animals.

Owen Griffiths of the Mauritius Marine Conservation Society said “it is probably a very unfortunate coincidence”, referring to a similar stranding in 2005.

“Likely they followed a school of fish into the lagoon, got confused, could not find their way out to sea again and tried to head out to sea directly over the coral reef instead of finding the pass.

“In their panic and stress they collided with corals, became exhausted and died,” he said.

“At this stage we have no idea of cause of death. An autopsy with stomach content analysis and lung examination — to look for oil traces — needs to be done.”

Stress to the corals Greenpeace called in a statement for an “urgent investigation” into the cause of the strandings.