Dozens Of Whales Stranded In Everglades' Shallow Waters

Dozens of whales are stranded in shallow waters of the Everglades National Park.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, a wildlife drama is playing out in southwest Florida. Dozens of pilot whales are stranded in shallow waters in the Everglades National Park. At least 10 have died. Wildlife groups are trying to help survivors, but they admit they don't have many options. From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's happening in a remote spot in Florida's Everglades where there are no roads or cell service. It's accessible only by boat or helicopter. Cameras on some of those helicopters show dozens of short-finned pilot whales, at last count 45, swimming in water just a few feet deep. The whales, which are 12 to 18 feet long, were refusing to stray far from whales that have already beached and died.

Linda Friar of Everglades National Park says rangers were first alerted to the pod of whales by a fishing guide yesterday afternoon. It's a part of Florida Bay, she says, where the water is very shallow for hundreds of yards.

LINDA FRIAR: So when the tide goes down, you can have six inches to a foot of water for multiple football fields. It's just really far. And that's part of the challenge in getting these whales enough water so that they can get back out to sea.

ALLEN: Several whales died Tuesday and more died today. The rest were still in the water swimming. Blair Mase of NOAA says it's not clear how long the pod of whales has been in the area. And she said, rescuers are concerned about their health.

BLAIR MASE: They're not in the area where they get to reach their food source, so they may be suffering from malnutrition. Some of the vets are reporting that some of these live animals are looking weak.

ALLEN: More than 20 people are on site today, federal and state wildlife agencies, plus volunteers with two private marine mammal rescue groups. Mase says they're mostly monitoring the health of the whales and considering ways to lead them to deeper water. But, she says, at this point, there are no good options.

MASE: Deeper water is miles and miles away. And these whales seem to be determined on sticking nearby these dead, stranded ones.

ALLEN: On social media and in live television shots from the scene, the saga of the stranded pilot whales riveted many across the country today. But marine scientists say mass strandings by pilot whales are not that uncommon. Researchers are uncertain about the causes. External things like weather pattern, sonar or lack of food may be factors. But pilot whales are extremely social species with strong kinship bonds that scientists say play an important part in these mass strandings.

The record of past rescue efforts is not encouraging. Last year, for example, more than 20 pilot whales came ashore on Florida's Atlantic Coast. Wildlife groups were able to save just five. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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