The number of dolphins washed up dead near a Mauritius oil spill site increased to 38 on Friday, a government official says.

People hold up national flags as they protest against the government's response to the oil spill disaster that happened in early August near the prime minister's office in Port Louis, Mauritius, August 29, 2020.
People hold up national flags as they protest against the government's response to the oil spill disaster that happened in early August near the prime minister's office in Port Louis, Mauritius, August 29, 2020. (AFP)

Thousands of protesters have demonstrated in the Mauritius capital Port Louis to demand an investigation into an oil spill from a Japanese ship and the mysterious death of dozens of dolphins that have been found near the site of the spill.

Environmentalists have called for an investigation into whether the dolphins died as a result of the spill caused when the bulk carrier, the MV Wakashio, struck a coral reef last month.

On Saturday, one protester held a banner with a dolphin covered in oil reading "our lives matter" and another held one calling for the government to resign. Mauritian flags were waved across the packed square of St Louis Cathedral.

"We do not trust the government and the diluted information they've been feeding us regarding the management and responses to the oil spill," Fabiola Monty, 33 a Mauritian environmental scientist, told Reuters from the square.

The frustrated residents marched peacefully through Port Louis a month after the ship struck a coral reef offshore and later cracked and spilled around 1,000 tons of fuel oil into fragile marine areas.

“It’s clear we are at a turning point in the history of our country,” a commentary in the Le Mauricien newspaper said. Addressing the crowd, some speakers called for government officials to step down.

Other protests were reported outside the Mauritius High Commission in London, Paris and Perth, Australia. There was no immediate comment by the Mauritius government on the demonstrations.

READ MORE: Oil spill heavily damages Mauritius’ coral reefs

Autopsies on dozens dolphins

The government has said it will carry out autopsies on all the dead dolphins and has set up a commission to look into the oil spill. Two investigations are being carried out: one by the police on the crew's responsibilities and one by a senior Shipping Ministry official on what happened to the ship.

So far veterinarians have examined only two of the mammals' carcasses, which bore signs of injury but no trace of oil in their bodies, according to preliminary autopsy results.

The autopsy on the first two was conducted by the government-run Albion Fisheries Research Centre.

Autopsy results on 25 dolphins that washed ashore on Wednesday and Thursday are expected in the coming days, according to Jasvin Sok Appadu from the Fisheries Ministry.

Local environmental group Eco-Sud, which took part in Saturday's protest, said in a statement on Friday that representatives from civil society should be present during the autopsies and called for a second opinion from independent specialists.

READ MORE: Dying Mother Dolphin Struggles to Save Baby in Mauritius Lagoon After Oil Spill

Workers load carcasses of dolphins that died and were washed up on shore at the Grand Sable, Mauritius August 26, 2020.
Workers load carcasses of dolphins that died and were washed up on shore at the Grand Sable, Mauritius August 26, 2020. (Reuters)

Government blames weather

The ship ran aground on July 25 and began leaking fuel August 6 into the Mahebourg Lagoon, fouling a protected wetlands area and a small island that was a bird and wildlife sanctuary.

Thousands of civilian volunteers worked for days to try to minimize the damage, creating makeshift oil barriers by stuffing fabric bags with sugar cane leaves and empty plastic bottles to keep them afloat. Environmental workers carefully ferried dozens of baby tortoises and rare plants to shore, plucking some trapped seabirds out of the goo.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth blamed bad weather for the government's slow response to the ship’s grounding.

Experts from ship owner Nagashiki Shipping, France and the United Nations have since arrived at the scene.

The ship’s remaining fuel was pumped out before the vessel finally split in two.

READ MORE: Operator of Japanese ship apologises for oil spill along Mauritius coast

Source: TRTWorld and agencies