EXCLUSIVE: Four whales have washed up dead on a remote Pacific island, with witnesses claiming all of the whales had been shot in the head.
The decomposing bodies of the whales were discovered last week on the small island of ‘Ata in Tonga, with some washed up on the beach and others on rocks.
‘Ata, which is an hour boat ride from the capital of Nuku’alofa, is used to house prisoners, but no guns are allowed on the island.
Prison officer Kolianita Feke told Yahoo7 of the moment he first saw the whales.
“Early in the morning we walked around the island and saw them, but they were already dead for a few days,” Mr Feke said.
“They were shot with a gun. It looked like they had a hole near the head area, or near their mouth.”
Vanessa Pirotta, a PhD Researcher from Macquarie University, believed the whales could be short-finned pilot whales based on their size, colour, shape and fin location.
“Tonga is a location where they are likely to be found. It’s not uncommon for them to be found there,” Ms Pirotta told Yahoo7.
But while some locals thought the whales may have been calves due to their small size, Ms Pirotta said that might not be the case.
“It’s definitey not a new born. They appear to be ranging from sub-adult length to adult,” she said, adding that full grown short-finned pilot whales grow to a maximum length of around seven
Ms Pirotta said pilot whales are social animals that are known to strand, but typically in larger groups.
Two months ago, a group of more than 140 pilot whales died after a mass stranding in Hamelin Bay, about 310 kilometres south of Perth.
In February 2017, 600 pilot whales washed ashore New Zealand’s south island in the country’s largest stranding in decades.
“It is interesting that there are only a handful. If there were more, like a mass stranding, that’s really typical for pilot whales,” Ms Pirotta said.
Photos show one whale washed up on rocks, while a smaller whale lies on the beach.
One local man described the incident as “terrible” and “upsetting”, while others wrote on social media hoping for the capture of the person responsible.
Since whaling was banned in Tonga by royal decree in 1978, whale watching and swimming with migrating humpback whales has become one of the country’s biggest tourism drawcards.
The whale deaths have been reported to Tonga’s Department of Fisheries and the Deputy Police Commissioner for investigation.
Yahoo7 has contacted the department for comment.