Time Is A Factor As Groups Try To Rescue Stranded Whales

Wildlife groups will be back on the scene Thursday off the coast of Southwest Florida where more than three dozen pilot whales are stranded in shallow water. At least 10 of the whales have beached and died. Officials are not optimistic about the outlook for a rescue.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now to the coast of Florida in the southwest of that state, where wildlife groups are working to save more than three dozen pilot whales stranded in shallow water. At least 10 whales have already beached and died, and as NPR's Greg Allen reports, officials are not optimistic about the outlook for those who remain.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Mass strandings by pilot whales are not uncommon. Environmental factors like weather, military sonar or lack of food may play a role, but pilot whales are an extremely social species with strong kinship bonds that scientists say play an important part in strandings.

Blair Maise of NOAA says the crew working to help these pilot whales has no good options. The whales are in a very shallow part of Florida bay, where there are few of the fish they feed on, and so far, she says, the survivors have refused to stray far from the dead whales on the beach.

BLAIR MAISE: It would be difficult to kind of guide them out to deeper water. We are considering, you know, options of what we could and could not do, but it's kind of a sit and wait and see and then monitor those animals.

ALLEN: Last year, 20 pilot whales came ashore on Florida's Atlantic Coast. Wildlife groups were able to save just five. Maise says scientists will try to find out why this stranding occurred. It's unusual, she says, because the whales are out of their normal range.

MAISE: So we'd like to look for evidence of disease. That's why it's important to sample and necropsy the dead animals so that we can have a clue what brought them here in the first place.

ALLEN: Maise says the crew of federal and state wildlife officials, plus volunteers with two private marine mammal rescue groups, will remain with the whales as long as necessary. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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