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National & World News
12/05/13

Sign of hope for stranded whales

(CNN) — In a potentially good sign, 15 to 20 of the pilot whales that have been stranded in shallow water off Florida’s Everglades National Park have moved toward deeper water.

The outlook for dozens of the short-finned pilot whales had previously looked bleak as the whales kept circling toward the shallow water.

The whales Thursday were near the Seminole Point area in about 12 feet of water, and were moving offshore to deeper water, said Blair Mase, a marine mammal scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Calling it a “very fluid situation,” scientists continue to monitor the whales, Mase said.

Forty-one whales had remained stranded after 10 died, including four who were euthanized because they were in poor condition.

The whales are very communal and stay together, and the fact that about half of the pod was heading toward deeper water could help their chances of survival.

Wildlife officials are unsure how long the pod of whales has been stranded, or why. Fishermen spotted the whales, several of which had beached themselves, on Tuesday night in a remote area accessible only by boat off the west coast of the Everglades, park spokeswoman Linda Friar said.

Rescuers have been using five boats to create a blockade of sorts between the whales still in the water and the beach as part of the effort to keep them from beaching and simultaneously encouraging them to make their way back to the Gulf of Mexico, Friar said.

Florida Beached Whales

By Kim Segal and Tom Watkins, EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Florida (CNN) — Six short-finned pilot whales have died and about 45 other whales were trapped Wednesday in shallow water off Florida’s Everglades National Park.

Wildlife officials were trying to rescue the whales, which were found Tuesday stranded on the park’s remote Highland Beach or trapped nearby in shallow water, Everglades park spokeswoman Linda Friar said.

Rangers found an unspecified number of whales beached, and others in the shallow water, after a fishing guide reported seeing one of the whales Tuesday afternoon, Friar said.

Wildlife workers were able to get some of the beached whales back into the water, she said.

The whales are believed to have approached the beach at high tide, but were unable to leave when the tide dropped, she said.

On Wednesday, they were stranded in “miles and miles” of shallow water, said Blair Mase, a marine mammal scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Officials were prepared to euthanize them, if needed, but were simply observing them, she said.

In all, 25 people were involved in rescue efforts, including officials from NOAA, the Marine Mammal Conservatory and the Marine Mammal Rescue Society, Mase said.

Fishermen spotted the whales, several of which had beached themselves, on Tuesday night in a remote area accessible only by boat off the west coast of the Everglades.

Such strandings are common and occur in a variety of locations, said Phillip Clapham, director of the whale research program at the National Marine Laboratory in Seattle, Washington.

While it’s difficult to explain why any particular mass stranding occurs, they tend to occur in areas where previous strandings have occurred, during low tide — particularly those around the new and full moons, in areas dotted with sand bars and during storms.

The animals’ cohesion can doom an entire group. “These are very, very social animals,” Clapham said in a telephone interview. “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.”

Would-be rescuers have their hands full, he said, noting that the animals can weigh a ton apiece. “It’s a largely, but not entirely, hopeless undertaking,” he said.

Clapham noted that on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, where such strandings are routine events, rescuers have used cranes and a flatbed truck. But heavy equipment is not readily available in the remote area off the Everglades where the stranding occurred.

No good estimates exist for how many pilot whales exist, but they are not endangered, he said.

“These events, while they’re tragic, don’t have any implications for the survival of the species.”

CNN’s Kim Segal and John Zarrella reported this story from Everglades National Park, Tom Watkins reported and wrote from Atlanta

Kim Segal, (CNN) — Four beached whales have died and about 30 other whales are trapped in shallow water off Florida’s Everglades National Park, a park spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Wildlife officials are trying to rescue the remaining whales, which were found Tuesday either stranded on the park’s remote Highland Beach or trapped the shallow water nearby, Everglades park spokeswoman Linda Friar said.

Rangers found an unspecified number of whales beached, and others in the shallow water, after a fishing guide reported seeing one of the whales Tuesday afternoon, Friar said.

Wildlife workers were able to get some of the beached whales back into the water, but four died on the beach, she said.

The whales are believed to have approached the beach at high tide, but were unable to leave when the tide was over, she said.

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