Chile says 20 beached whales die in Strait of Magellan

SANTIAGO (AFP) - Twenty killer whales died and 25 others were rescued after becoming stranded along the Strait of Magellan by an unusually low tide, Chile's National Fishing Service said Tuesday.

Fishermen and Chilean navy personnel struggled to save the orcas after they ran into trouble near Susan, a village on the strait that links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the southern tip of South America, officials said.

"The maritime authority and fishermen in the area succeeded in returning 25 to the sea, but due to an unusually low tide, 20 animals could not be rescued and died at the scene," said Jorge Sierpa, director of the Fishing Service in Punta Arenas.

Orcas, members of the dolphin family with no natural predator, can weigh up to two tons and grow to lengths of up to 24 feet (eight meters).

Mr Sierpa said those that were saved had to be dragged and pushed to the sea by hand because the coastline where they were stranded is unreachable by vehicles.

He speculated that they entered the shallows pursuing prey, or because the lead orca became disoriented.