The Many Mysteries Behind Why Manapad is India's Pilot Whale Graveyard

The marine mammals lay on their sides, occasionally sighing through their blowholes. “They were so calm, so gentle,” Jyothi said. She still seemed surprised, more than 10 days later. “We couldn’t help them,” said Jyothi’s husband, J. Pious, of Kallamozhi. “Tears ran from their eyes. We felt terrible.”

While whales don’t have tear glands, “there are other glands and Harderian glands that bathe the conjuctiva and eyelids in a viscous solution that have likely a protective function,” says Mridula Srinivasan, a marine biologist at National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Science and Technology, US. “This are referred to as ‘whale tears.’”

At 5 pm on January 11, twelve short-finned pilot whales stranded themselves on the sandy beach at Kallamozhi. A few people noticed the unusual event and mobilised the entire village. “Many whales were still in the water,” said Pious. Black heads bobbed above the waves in a video clip he played on his phone. It was hard to tell how many there were.

“We tried to move the beached ones to deeper water so they could join the others, but they couldn’t swim,” Pious said. “They kept turning on their sides and returning to shore. They had no strength.” Onlookers shared photographs on social media and soon hundreds of people arrived to watch.

Officials from the police, fire service, forest, and district administration arrived within a couple hours. With the help of local fisherfolk, and by feeble torchlight, they tried to send the creatures back into the sea.

In the wee hours before dawn, three lay dead on the shore while the rest of the pod disappeared. Just when everyone thought they had managed to rescue the lot, they got a call from Manapad, a fishing village 8 km south. The whole pod had beached there.

Manapad is a promontory that gently sweeps out into the bay. A couple of long sand bars buffer the beach from the waves. A few whales found their way into the channels and struggled. Fishermen tied them with ropes and unsuccessfully tried to push them into the sea. The fisheries department brought a launch and fishermen used their little crafts to haul the whales to deeper waters. Seven of these whales, which belong to a family of oceanic dolphins like killer whales, didn’t come ashore. While many feel they were rescued, it’s just as possible they beached elsewhere.