Four whales, 20 dolphins and 176 turtles have reportedly been discovered dead

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ship fire
Credit: LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/getty

Several hundred dead sea animals reportedly washed ashore in Sri Lanka on Wednesday, after a cargo ship caught fire and sank, sending poisonous chemicals into the ocean.

Four whales, 20 dolphins and 176 turtles have been discovered dead, according to the New York Times. The MV X-Press Pearl went up on flames in May and sank in early June.

Officials believe that the deaths of the animals are related to the toxins released from the boat fire.

"It is very obvious that the deaths of these sea animals are connected to the ship," Dharshani Lahandapura, the chairperson of Sri Lanka's Marine Environment Protection Authority, said in court this week, the Times reported.

Lahandapura added, "Last year, during the same time period only two turtle deaths were reported."

mv x-press pearl
Credit: ISHARA S. KODIKARA/getty

Another official told the Times that the effects could be even worse, as the environmental protection agency continues to find more dead animals.

The MV X-Press Pearl caught on fire on May 20. It began sinking on June 2, the Times reports.

One of the ship's containers had already been leaking nitric acid when it entered Sri Lanka's waters, and once it was set ablaze oil, caustic soda, methanol and plastic pellets were also reportedly spilled into the ocean.

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So far, the country has collected 1,500 tons of debris since May, the newspaper said. They have not yet seen any signs of an oil spill.

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Fishing has been restricted on parts of the coast while government officials work to coordinate a cleanup effort.

A criminal investigation has also been opened against the crew, as officials attempt to determine what caused the ship to set fire, causing what the Marine Protection Agency called "probably the worst beach pollution in our history," the Times reports.