Sri Lankan villagers defy coronavirus curfew to rescue stranded whales

The nearly 100 whales on the shore brought dozens of locals down to the beach

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Sri Lankan villagers have defied a coronavirus curfew to try to save about 100 whales stranded on their beach on the island's southwest coast.

Men waded into the breaking surf to push the small whales back out to sea on Monday while curious villagers gathered on the beach at Panadura, south of the capital, Colombo, to watch, ignoring a 24-hour coronavirus curfew.

"I was fishing when I saw a dark patch and about 100 came ashore," said fisherman Upul Ranjith. "We've pushed as many as we can back to sea."

"I don't know why this has happened. It's never happened before. This is the first time I've seen it," Mr Ranjith said.

The phenomenon of whales getting stranded in shallow water remains largely a mystery to scientists.

In September, several hundred whales died in shallows off the coast of Australia in its biggest stranding on record and one of the largest in the world.

As news of the Sri Lankan stranding spread, officials from the coastguard and navy arrived to help with the rescue, which went on late into the night.

But Mr Ranjith said he feared for those whales that he and his fellow villagers could not push into deeper water: "All of them will die by morning."