A pod of what is believed to consist of short-finned pilot whales, found stranded in the Everglades National Park, has prompted intense rescue efforts in Florida Bay.
The whales were originally discovered on Tuesday, trapped in the waters near Highland Beach in Monroe County. So far, federal officials claim that around six pilot whales have died in the shallow waters. A definitive identification of the creatures will not be possible until biologists can perform field necropsies on the carcasses of the dead whales, however.
The short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas) actually belongs to the oceanic dolphin family, but present behaviors more closely related to the whale family. Males can reach lengths of up to around 18 feet, whilst females reach lengths of around 12 feet; the average adult weighs approximately 1,000 to 3,000 kilograms.
The head of the short-finned pilot whale is somewhat bulbous and melon-shaped, with no discernible beak. In terms of coloring, they are typically a black or dark brown hue and possess a large gray saddle behind the dorsal fin.
They favor temperate waters around tropical and subtropical regions of the world, and often inhabit deeper waters. In the United States the whales congregate along the West Coast, Western North Atlantic, Northern Gulf of Mexico and Hawaii, and are mostly observed in groups of between 25 to 50 members.
According to Detroit News, Marine Mammal Scientist Blair Mase of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states that 46 whales are swimming in as little as three feet of water. Local residents and volunteers were on hand to help look after the whales, as rescue efforts were being coordinated.
Speaking to CBS Miami, Linda Friar of the Everglades National Park indicates that rangers were originally alerted to the presence of four beached whales on Tuesday, a finding that was reportedly made by a fisherman at around 2 p.m. After the rangers were dispatched to the scene, they actually found a total of 10 beached whales, and an additional 20 to 30 “confused” whales were evidently stranded in the shallow waters of the beach area.
The rescue team was able to push six of the mammals back into deeper waters. Unfortunately, four of the short-finned pilot whales were already deceased and the workers were forced to retire for the night, stalling further rescue attempts until the following day.
Specialists working for the NOAA and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission then commenced the next phase of their rescue efforts on Wednesday. The crews are using the shallow waters to keep the whales wet and cool during low tide, and are set to drive the majestic creatures back into the sea when high tide strikes. Ultimately, it is hoped that the whales can be returned to the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where they belong.
Thus far, a total of four boats and 15 workers are monitoring the whales around the clock, ensuring they remain cool. A fire boat fitted with a hose is also on standby, but has not yet been called upon.
The whales are highly social creatures that tend to follow a designated leader. It has been theorized that the leader was perhaps beached first, resulting in its unsuspecting followers also becoming stuck along the beach.
Although attempts are still being made to save the stranded short-finned pilot whales, experts fear that those individuals that have already been freed could become re-beached, upon seeing the corpses of other members of their pod.
By James Fenner