By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

    On Monday afternoon, short-finned pilot whales began washing ashore at Panadura Beach in Sri Lanka. By nightfall, there were at least a hundred, by some reports. The mass-stranding quickly became the country’s biggest on record.

    It’s also exactly the kind of story I needed to hear today: Local residents, the navy, the coast guard, police, and others managed to rescue almost all of them, AFP reports. Volunteers began trying to push whales back into the water, but more kept washing ashore, they said. Using jet skis lent by a local sports club and small patrol boats, people (pictured above) worked through the night pulling the exhausted whales back to deeper water.

    This is the kind of teamwork that gives me hope for humans’ future. Despite the pandemic, people banded together to rescue these giant marine mammals—some weighing more than 6,500 pounds. Not all were saved (one who wasn’t is pictured below), but National Geographic Explorer and marine biologist Asha de Vos, who lives nearby and helped guide rescue efforts, was impressed by her fellow community members. “Honestly,” she told me in an email, “it was the local community who were at it from the moment it happened—and they were working really hard.”

    In this case, as the whales came closer to shore, they got caught in the wave zone. As they tried to swim back out—even with the help and guidance of humans—they’d often get pushed back by crashing waves. “Essentially you have to imagine that it is like being stuck [on] a treadmill—for hours!” de Vos said. The more exhausted the whales became, the harder it was for them to push past the waves.

    “It wasn’t an easy task,” de Vos said. But “it was incredible to see the compassion everyone had for the animals.”

    Check out photos and videos of the rescue efforts,

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