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Chance of survival low for stranded pilot whales off Fla. coast

By Karen Graham     Dec 5, 2013 in Environment
Dozens of short-finned pilot whales have somehow become stranded in shallow water off the coast of Florida's Everglades National Park. Ten of the whales have already died, with several having been euthanized. Wildlife officials fear that more will die.
The pod of whales were first spotted on Tuesday afternoon near Highland Beach, on the gulf coast of Monroe County, Florida. The group of fishermen who reported them thought they appeared to be beaching themselves. The water is only about three feet deep and marked by numerous sandbars.
Since that time, NOAA, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Marine Animal Rescue Society of Miami, the Marine Mammal Conservancy, and the National Park Service have all been working to save the stranded whales.
Highland Beach is a shallow, remote area off the west coast of the Everglades, and is only accessible by boat. Deep water is almost 20 miles away. While the whales were first spotted on Tuesday, it's not known how long they have actually been stranded in the area. Six of the animals beached themselves and died, and four had to be euthanized because they were too weakened and sick to survive.
Pilot whales have been known to get stranded and beach themselves, the same thing happening in 2012, when two dozen pilot whales stranded and beached themselves. A similar thing happened with 23 pilot whales in 2011, according to wildlife officials.
Phillip Clapham, director of whale research with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle said pilot whales seem to strand and beach in areas where a previous stranding has happened, almost always during low tides and around the full or new moons. Chapham also pointed out that, "These are very, very social animals. 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."
The main concern now is that many of the whales may not survive. It has been found that even leading some back to deep water might not be enough, because some will often turn back and get stranded again. Another problem is the number of sandbars and sand flats to navigate, and when the tide is out, this can be an almost impossible situation.
More about Pilot whales, Florida, Everglades, Pod, Survival
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