Short-Finned Pilot Whales May Have Moved Into Deeper Waters

Some of the short-finned pilot whales that had stranded themselves in Florida's Everglades National Park earlier this week may have swam into deeper waters, according to the Coast Guard.

About 20 or so whales of the 40 that had stranded themselves were missing on Friday morning, leading officials to believe they swam off out to sea.

A Coast Guard cutter spotted nine whales swimming in deeper waters -- while two remained in the shallows. But the other whales were nowhere to be found, which is optimistic news.

See also: Rescue Attempts Continue For Short-Finned Pilot Whales That Stranded Themselves at Everglades National Park

On Thursday, a Coast Guard chopper spotted two pods of whales swimming in about 12 feet of water. As the day progressed, they had moved into even deeper waters.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that three pods had been spotted nine miles north of where they had stranded themselves, and were moving towards the deep sea.

The pod was first seen on Tuesday, about 30 miles from Flamingo in Monroe County.

According to NOAA fisheries official Blair Mase, said that while there's no telling exactly what happened to the animals, in all likelihood, they found their way back into the depths.

"It's encouraging that they can't be found," she said. "They may have gone out to sea. We just don't know."

As for the 30 or so whales that the Coast Guard did spot on Thursday, they seemed to stay in the area. But officials were able to position their boats to keep the pods from swimming back towards the shallows.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as well as the Miami-Dade Police Department, joined up with the Coast Guard and NOAA all week, trying to rescue the whales.

Officials brought about 15 boats and 31 volunteers to the area Thursday morning to begin their rescue efforts.

As many as ten had beached themselves on Tuesday. Marine officials were able to push back six of the ten whales, but four of the whales soon died. That number had grown to six dead since.

Linda Friar, spokeswoman for Everglades National Park, says that field necropsies were performed on the dead whales. Veterinarians are specifically looking for signs of cetacean morbillivirus, a virus that has reportedly killed about 800 dolphins on the East Coast and has spread to whales.

Results of the necropsies won't be available for a few weeks.

Still, the fact that the whales may have moved out to sea is good news. On Thursday, officials were pessimistic that the whales could be coaxed back into the deep and saved.

"The outlook does not ultimately look good," Mase said Thursday.

But on Friday, the mood had changed to one of optimism.

Officials are still trying to figure out what caused the whales to beach themselves in the shallow waters of Highland Beach. The hope for the surviving whales now is that they don't return or beach themselves elsewhere.

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph