Rescue efforts were launched to rescue dozens of stranded pilot whales, but 46 died while only three were returned to sea.
Forty-six whales stranded on a beach on the Indonesian island of Madura died, while rescuers managed to push three back into the sea, the governor of the province said.
A rescue effort was launched on Thursday after dozens of pilot whales stranded. The volunteers pushed some back into the sea, while the remains of the dead whales were due to be buried on Saturday.
“But some have come back here, trying to find their mothers, even if the mothers are found to be dead,” East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa said.
Video footage from Friday showed whales scattered over a wide area with local residents wading through ankle-deep water, some trying to splash or push them out to sea, while others took photos in mounting stranded animals.
The governor told Reuters news agency that authorities plan to bury the dead whales on Saturday after the tide goes down and said two excavators have been brought in.
It is not fully understood why whales, which travel together in pods, beach themselves on their own but they are known to follow a leader, as well as congregating around an injured or distressed whale.
Whale Stranding Indonesia, a non-governmental organization, said that as of 2020 more than 70 marine mammals were found stranded, including dugongs.
Last year, a 29-meter (95-foot) blue whale stranded in Kupang, drawing thousands of spectators.
In 2018, a 9.5-meter (31-foot) sperm whale also ran aground on the Indonesian island of Kapota.
The cause of death was unknown, but residents found 5.9 kg (13 pounds) of plastic in the stomach. According to reports, the plastic items found included flip-flops and plastic bags.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States, other threats whales face include being struck by seagoing vessels or becoming entangled in fishing nets.