Five baby short-finned pilot whales are the last alive among their pod of 22 that beached themselves this morning near Fort Pierce, Florida. Scientists, who are right now transporting the mammals to the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute are unsure how many, if any, of the young whales will survive.
“Hundreds of Treasure Coast residents converged on Avalon Beach State Park Saturday in what became an all-day struggle to rescue a pod of short-fin pilot whales that stranded themselves in the surf,” the Palm Beach Post reported:
Twenty-two of the sleek, black marine mammals, ranging in size from 5-foot juveniles to 18-foot adults weighing around one ton, languished in the sun. Volunteers under the direction of biologists and veterinarians wrestled the whales upright to help them breath, covered their skins with moist towels and poured water over them.
The animals came ashore sometime before 9 a.m. One of the first on scene was Blair Mase, stranding coordinator for the Southeast Region with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. By coincidence, Mase, who recently moved to Vero Beach, was surfing in the area when she noticed people running toward the whales.
Mase said in such instances, it is useless to simply push pilot whales back into the ocean.
“This species has a tight social structure,” Mase said. “Typically, they stay together as a group. So if one animal is sick, they all come ashore. If you push them into the water, they’ll just keep coming back and stranding themselves again.”
Scientists are not certain why pilot whales deliberately swim up onto beaches, although Mase said it is the species that most often does in Florida.
It may be a hard-wired instinct to follow their leader, said Steve McCulloch, manager of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network for Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University. Pilot whales are highly social animals and appear to take direction from one alpha individual. If that whale gets sick and beaches itself, the rest seem to follow without realizing that it’s going to kill them, he added.
There were five calves in the stranded pod and McCulloch said they have the best chances of being saved. They were taken to Harbor Branch Saturday afternoon to be medically evaluated and rehydrated.
“Sadly, without the facilities and resources that are critically needed, the rest probably cannot be saved,” he said. “The other whales will be humanely euthanized.”
Image via Facebook by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
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