Local fishermen managed to save as many as 36 whales, which had stranded themselves on a beach in Tuticorin district, while 45 whales died, a government official said on Tuesday.

The pod of whales started beaching themselves on Monday afternoon along a 15-km stretch coast near Manapad and Kallamozhi villages.

“At least 45 short-nosed pilot whales beached were later confirmed dead,” District Collector M Ravikumar said, adding that the pod may have been hit by a passing ship.

“It’s very strange and we are examining the whales. We found some of the whales were still alive and struggling for their lives,” Raju said.

According to officials, the fishermen dragged many of the beached whales back into the sea, but they kept returning to the shore.

Fishermen had raised the alarm after the whales, about 4.5 metres long, starting coming ashore.

“On Monday evening, there were more than a dozen whales beached at many places on the shore,” said S Thiraviyam, a resident of Manapad.In August last year, the carcass of a 33-feet-long whale washed up on a beach near a village in Nagapattinam district.

In April, the carcass of a whale, later identified as a sperm whale by a team of scientists from the Fisheries College and Research Institute, washed ashore at Veppalodai coast.