A pod of more than 50 pilot whales have died following a mass stranding on a Scottish beach after one of them got stuck giving birth to its young.
Sea rescuers were called to the scene of the accident at Traigh Mhor in North Tolsta on the Isle of Lewis around 7am on Sunday to report dozens of mammals were in distress.
Initial reports indicated that there were around 55 animals, including both adults and calves. However, it soon turned out that only 15 animals were still alive.
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) attempted to refloat two of the more active whales that were still deep in the water as the tide receded and one escaped.
However, the other later stranded again and later died, as did three others.
At around 3.30pm it was decided that the remaining whales should be euthanized for animal welfare reasons.
The cause of the stranding is not known, but it is suspected that the pod may have followed one of the females.
A statement from charity BDMLR said: “One of the dead whales appeared to have had a vaginal prolapse – hence it is currently believed that the entire pod is stranded due to the birth of a female.”
“Pilot whales are notorious for their strong social bonds. So if one whale gets into trouble and gets stranded, the others often follow.”
The Coastguard, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Police and the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) were also at the scene on Sunday.
The Western Isles Council said it had officers on the ground.
BDMLR added: “Around 3:30 p.m., the local veterinarian along with the Coast Guard, Fire and Rescue Services and a forensic veterinarian concluded that the shallow beach and rough wave conditions made it unsafe to refloat the remaining animals.” .”
“Given the length of time the pilot whales have been out of the water and the poor conditions, it was decided that they should be euthanized for welfare reasons.
“We would like to say thank you to the Lewis Community, the Stornoway Coast Guard, the Police, Stornoway and Shawbost Fire Departments, SMASS, SSPCA, Civil Air Support, CalMac and of course our dedicated team of paramedics who have all come together in their efforts speak out to save these whales.
“A sad result for this capsule and obviously not the result we were all hoping for.”
SMASS will now perform autopsies on the whales to find out why they were stranded.
Pilot whales are small cetaceans that belong to the dolphin family.
A Coastguard spokesman said: “HM Coastguard assisted the rescue of British diver Marine Life this morning following reports of around 50 stranded mammals on Traigh Mhor, Isle of Lewis.”
“Around 7.40am Coastguard rescue teams from Stornoway, Bragar and Ness were dispatched to the scene of the accident to provide safety.
“Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service were also present.”