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Fourteen whales, three of which have stopped breathing, were found washed ashore Tuesday morning in Oura, Kagoshima Prefecture.

News photoA group of whales lie beached in the town of Oura, Kagoshima Prefecture.

Police said they were trying to decide whether to resume rescue operations after rough seas and a low tide prevented rescue workers from attempting to tow the surviving whales, which are 8 meters to 10 meters in length, back to sea.

They were to monitor the whales through the night and pour water on them to try to keep them alive, according to town officials.

Some of the whales were seen spouting water and moving their tails, swayed by waves washing over them. Rescuers are worried as the water around the whales was red with blood, although there were no visible injuries.

Police initially said that four of the beached whales, discovered by a passerby at around 8:25 a.m., were already dead.

Shigehisa Shima from Io World Kagoshima City Aquarium in Kagoshima, however, said only three of the stranded whales had stopped breathing.

He said the three may still survive, as they are most likely sperm whales, which can live without breathing for a considerable length of time.

Police said strong winds and waves probably drove the whales ashore.

The Fisheries Agency has ordered local officials to either burn or bury any whales that die. It advised locals to consult with health departments if they intend to eat the animals.

A marine expert in Fukuoka said reasons for whales being beached are hearing infections or inadvertently entering shallow waters.

But because a whole group of whales was beached, it may be that the leader lost its way, the expert said.

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