About 45 short finned pilot whales are trapped in shallow water, while six have already died in Florida’s Everglades National Park. The whales were found Tuesday while rescuers continue to attempt to try and get them to move back out into deeper waters. A fishing guide was the first to report the problem to wildlife officials when one of the whales was spotted on the beach Tuesday afternoon.
Wildlife officials were able to get some of the whales back into the water, although the numbers of beached whales is overwhelming. It is believed that the pilot whales came into the Everglades National Park when high tide was in, but ended up being stranded as the tide went back out.
By Wednesday the distressed whales were stranded and spread out within miles of shallow waters within the Everglades National Park. Marine mammal scientists with the Atmospheric Administration were just observing the whales at this time, but are prepared to start euthanizing them when needed. When fishermen spotted the whales stranded in the shallow waters, they were only reachable by boat in a very remote area. About 25 rescuers, including officials from NOAA (the Marine Mammal Conservatory and the Marine Mammal Rescue Society), have been involved in the attempt to move the whales out of their shallow water death trap.
Phillip Clapham, the director of the whale research program at the National Marine Laboratory in Seattle, Washington stated that these kinds of whale strandings are very common and can occur in multiple locations. At times it is very difficult to determine why such problems occur with a variety of species of whales, but they always seem to happen in the same, if not close by locations. In many instances it also seems to be due to low tide issues during the new and full moon phases, occasional sand bars in shallow areas and during nasty storms.
Whales, being such social animals by nature, tend to follow each other into impending doom when they fail to recognize that they are putting themselves into a dangerous situation. The whales always tend to stay in family groups, so if the group leader brings the pod into a paticular area the whole family will follow suit. So rescuers in the Everglades National Park really have their work cut out for themselves, being that each whale weighs over one ton a piece. At times such efforts can be a huge loss in reality, but not entirely. As a good amount of whales can be saved as long as they can get them to turn around and not come back to beach themselves all over again.
In Massachusetts Cape Cod, were such strandings are pretty common, cranes are actually used with a flat-bed truck in order to move the whales to safety. Such heavy equipment is not always available to use when these events occur at random times, especially in the remote areas of the Everglades National Park. At least the short finned pilot whales are not an endangered species at this time. Most of these events do not decimate the whale species during such events, but are tragic to witness. They can harm populations of endangered or threatened pods in rare instances though. The Everglades National Park will continue their rescue efforts until all of the short finned pilot whales are freed, or euthanized if any seem to be suffering severely.
By Tina Elliott