December 5, 2013

Dozens of pilot whales stranded along Florida coast.

A pod of short-finned pilot whales has become stranded in a remote area of Everglades National Park in Florida, at an area known as Highland Beach.

Forty-one of the whales are alive in shallow waters, while six whales have died, and four more had to be euthanized Wednesday.

A rescue mission was launched Wednesday morning to assess the whales, which are struggling in Florida Bay about 30 miles from the town of Flamingo. Why the whales have become stranded is not yet known, however a team of members from the Marine Mammal Conservancy, Marine Animal Rescue, Florida Fish and Wildlife, and NOAA Fisheries were at the scene to evaluate whether any of the animals can be saved.

An attempt earlier in the day to herd the whales out of the park's remote Highland Beach failed.

The outlook for the survivors isn't good. The deep water is 20 miles to the west and there are a number of sandbars in the way.

Blair Mase, a NOAA Marine Mammal Scientist, cautioned that people need to be "realistic about the options for these animals. Euthanasia might be the most humane option. The animals could be compromised."

"[This is] very, very far away from where they would normally be. There is a population in the Gulf, but they are very far from their deep water habitat," Mase said.

The incident isn't the first time a pod of pilot whales has beached themselves in South Florida in recent years. More than 20 came ashore near the Florida Keys in 2012, and after a beaching near Fort Pierce last September only five whales survived as 15 died or were euthanized.

"They're a very cohesive species," Mase pointed out, "If you have a scenario where you have pod members who are sick, the others will stick nearby."

They remain together as family units. If the lead animal gets in trouble, probably everyone else is going to follow them and be in trouble.

Pilot whales are a protected species,

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