The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Update: The count of whales stranded at Everglades National Park has grown to 46, and the number of dead is now six, up from four this morning. But all hope is not lost. The park spokeswoman said, “We think we can rescue some.”
Of all the places to be stranded, a pod of 40+ pilot whales has chosen a spot in the Everglades National Park so remote that would-be rescuers must take an hour and a half boat ride to get them.
To make matters worse, there’s no cellular service which makes relaying vital information about their condition challenging, said Blair Mase, Marine Mammal Stranding Network Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Four of the creatures have already died on the beach.
Their mates have been churning up the very shallow waters nearby since late Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities don’t know why the whales traveled so far – maybe 30 miles – from their natural deep water habitat. They also don’t know if they can be saved, Mase said.
A team including two veterinarians will be making that call today.
“This species is very cohesive, so if there is one that is sick, the others will follow it to shore. Even when one is dead on shore, the others will stay there,” Mase said.
If rescuers could drive to the beach, they could remove the dead whales onshore to help encourage the 12 – to 18-foot beasts to move on.
But there are no roads nearby.
“It’s very remote- the most western boundary of the Everglades National Park,” Mase said.
Everglades Park rangers alerted NOAA to the stranding yesterday afternoon after the whales were spotted near Highland Beach in northern Monroe County.
Rangers found 10 whales on the beach, bt pushed six back in the water, park spokeswoman Linda Friar told the Associated Press.
There’s no telling how long they’d been in the area, Mase said.
Pilot whales are the most common species to be found stranded.
They are likely hungry, having traveled far from the squid they regularly dine upon. Some may be sick.
“It could be environmental or something human related,” Mase said.
Hundreds of dolphins this year have died as the result of virus. The cetacean morbillivirus can also infect pilot whales. That possibility will be one of many investigated.
Should the whales prove healthy, getting them out of there will be challenging. They are swimming in water that in spots is only a couple feet deep.
Getting to them requires wading through this shallow water for about 200 yards, Mase said. A maze of deep channels weaves through the area, but getting 20 to 30 whales to deep water would likely require a big boat, equipment, more people, she said.
“Our resources are very limited… we may not be able to do it,” Mase said.
Mase has seen a couple of similar remote strandings in her 23 years, including one in the Everglades in 1995. “By the time we got out there they were all dead.”