Crews are trying to assist more than three dozen short-finned pilot whales that are lost and struggling in remote, shallow waters in Everglades National Park.
Akin to giant dolphins, pilot whales normally inhabit the depths of the sea, or in this group’s case the Gulf of Mexico, with about 2,400 of their brethren. But now more than 40 of them are stranded in just a few feet of water, and at least six have already died.
"This scenario is very challenging because of where they are," said Blai Mase, spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to the Associated Press. Although heavy equipment is available for rescuing stranded whales, this pod is stuck in an area accessible only by boat, the AP said.
The whales are the second-largest animal in the dolphin family after killer whales, according to NOAA. Females are 12 feet long on average, while males are 18 feet for males. They are known to travel in large groups. Since members of this whale species usually swim together behind a dominant male leader, it would only take one confused whale to lead a group astray, AP said. Pilot whales are known to become involved in mass strandings, according to NOAA.
Several agencies are working together to try and rescue the whales, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, rangers and NOAA. Four boats carrying 15 crew are attempting to assist the whales and then guide them to deeper waters when the tide comes in, the local NBC News station in Miami reported.
Although stranded whales in the Everglades is not unheard of, neither is it common, authorities said. The whales’ penchant for sticking together could prove the undoing even of the ones who are coaxed back out to sea, NOAA Marine Mammal Scientist Blair Mase told NBC News in Miami.
"Euthanasia might be the most humane option. The animals could be compromised,” Mase said. "If we did push the healthy ones out, if they see one dead one they will come back again.”