More than 160 pilot whales have stranded on a beach on Australia’s west coast. According to the Biodiversity and Conservation Authority (DBCA), the marine mammals were in distress in shallow waters on Thursday near the small town of Dunsborough, 250 kilometers south of Perth. By midday (local time), 26 animals had died, ABC broadcaster quoted a DBCA spokeswoman as saying. Helpers frantically tried to keep 140 more whales alive.

There are four groups of whales that lie on the beach over a distance of 500 meters. “Based on previous strandings of this cetacean species, such as at Cheynes Beach near Albany last year, such events typically result in the stranded animals having to be euthanized, which is the most humane solution,” the Parks and Wildlife Service said of the state of Western Australia on Facebook.

Meanwhile, emergency services used boats to try to stop another group of around 20 pilot whales (also called pilot whales) from also getting stranded. A little further from the coast there is also another pod of around 110 whales in deeper water.

Numerous animal rights activists and residents rushed to the beach to help rescue them and shower the animals with water, the media reported. However, the authorities asked the population to only approach the whales under the guidance of experts.

“We know people want to help, but we have asked them not to attempt to rescue the animals without direction from DBCA staff as this could cause further injury and stress to the animals and hinder a coordinated rescue operation,” the authorities wrote. In the case of mass strandings of whales, human safety is always the top priority.

The situation was terrible, marine expert Ian Wiese, who was at the scene, told Radio ABC Perth. “There are many theories around the world, but no one has really been able to find a cause for the mass whale strandings.”

In 1996, there was a mass stranding of 320 pilot whales in the same region. At that time almost all animals were saved. In 2018, 100 ocean giants died after a mass stranding in Hamelin Bay, Western Australia. Last year, nearly 100 pilot whales were stranded on Cheynes Beach, east of the city of Albany. None of the animals survived. According to experts, pilot whales form extremely close bonds with each other. At certain times of the year they travel in large groups, increasing the risk of mass strandings.