Mystery surrounds France's dead whales

The usually pristine shores of Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez in western France, now dotted with hulking whale carcasses.

The grim sight is baffling marine biologists who are investigating after at least six whales were found washed up with no apparent sign of having been hit by a ship or caught in a trawler's net.

Researchers on Monday (November 16) used a mechanical digger and long knives to dissect a mammoth fin whale, taking samples they believe might reveal evidence of a viral pathogen.

They say that in an average year, between three and, at most, 10 whales are found dead on France's beaches.

Willy Dabin is a researcher from the Pelagis Observatory.

"We have what is almost an epidemic or, at any rate, a spike in deaths, which doesn't seem to be normal, compared to what we've observed for the last 50 years in our tracing of washed out whales."

The most recent fin whale corpse was found on Friday near Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez.

The common fin whales have all died within the past six weeks and all of them have been malnourished and shown evidence of hemorrhaging.

Officials have put guards near the dead whales in a bid to keep intrigued locals at a distance.