Cape Town - The stranding of 19 pilot whales on Cape Town's Noordhoek Beach on Sunday is possibly the first-ever mass stranding of these creatures on the South African coast.

 

"I don't think we've had a mass stranding of pilot whales before," said a marine life expert, who declined to be named for professional reasons.

 

According to the city's disaster management centre, the whales beached on Sunday morning.

 

Spokesman Wilfred Solomons-Johannes said five of the whales had died, and police, sea rescue and other services were on the scene trying to hose down the 14 surviving whales.

 

National Sea Rescue Institute spokesman Craig Lambinon said attempts were being made to help rescue the surviving whales.

 

"At this stage we are keeping them alive on the beach using water and blankets."

 

Lambinon appealed to the public to stay away from the beach as there were more than enough personnel on the scene.

 

The department of environmental affairs' oceans and coast branch, which co-ordinates the rescue of stranded whales and dolphins, was not immediately available for comment.

 

According to the expert, pilot whales are a type of toothed whale. There are two species -- short finned and long finned.

 

"It's possible these are long-finned pilot whales, which are more prevalent in the southern hemisphere."

 

The biggest killer of stranded whales was stress.

 

"Pilot whales are very sensitive to stress and will need to be released in calm waters," the expert said.

 

According to the on-line Wikipedia, pilot whales are "notorious for stranding themselves on beaches". The phenomenon is more common along the Australian and New Zealand coastlines.

 

Long-finned pilot whales can reach over six metres in length, and can weigh more than two tons.

 

Sapa