December 6, 2013

The Whales that Lost their Way.

The recent stranding of 51 pilot whales in the Florida Everglades is not only devastating to those who are environmentalists, but it raises the awareness of how a species is so sensitive to seismic forces, fisheries, environmental toxins and even high moon tides.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were first on the scene to attempt to rescue the stranded whales, which kept increasing in number.

Their efforts saved almost 11 total, although some had to be euthanized due to failing health after being stuck in sand and shallow water for two days. The 35 remaining pilot whales are still struggling to make it to deeper water and back out to sea, with the help of NOOA.

This is the type of situation where it takes a village.

In this remote part of Florida, usually reserved for shore birds and other species who thrive on shallow water and sand banks, the unusual occurrence of large mammals attempting to swim in these conditions caught fisherman by surprise.

It began with 12 pilot whales, and quickly increased to 51 total whales.

The reason?

They are an exceptionally social species and reluctant to leave their pod mates behind. Every family member takes part in the raising and caring of the other. Scientists believe that the stranded whales’ number increased due to all the family members coming to the rescue of other whales. The “granny” whales help the mother feed the babies, so if the babies are dying, the older whales try to support the next in line.

The whales still had farther offshore to go, despite the seemingly unworkable attempts by the NOAA-led rescue team. There are literally 15 miles of sand and shore before the whales can be safe in the deeper water.

With the recent high spring tides on the east coast, some scientists believe that pilot whales are more susceptible to losing their way in alternative ocean conditions. As the tide goes out under any spring tide situation, a whale can find themselves stuck in the shallow water unable to leave.

It began with a few, and the rest of the pod joined their extended family to be close and do what they know best, the bonding of a close species under life-threatening situations.

Let’s hope the whales make it back to their domain. We have been captivated by this story, and it is more of a testament to survival of the fittest, human intervention, and the compassion we feel towards animals who are smart and sensitive.

Between the underwater terrain, the change in weather, and the tides, these awesome beasts deserve to return to their home in the sea.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

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