EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla. (WSVN) — Nearly 100 false killer whales that stranded off of Everglades National Park have either died or had to be euthanized over the weekend in the largest mass stranding of this species in history.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on Saturday, nearly 100 false killer whales were spotted on the western side of Everglades National Park, north of the Highland Beach area.
Several agencies, including NOAA Fisheries and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), were then dispatched in order to confirm the beaching of the black whales.
The agencies attempted to herd the whales, which — despite their name — are technically dolphins, but were unsuccessful at doing so. The whales then scattered and spread out, many getting deeply tangled in the mangroves.
Veterinarians on the scene analyzed their poor condition. Unfortunately, nine had to be humanely euthanized.
On Saturday, scientists found a total of 95 the whales. Eighty-one died in total, including 72 who died on their own and the nine that were were euthanized. Thirteen whales in the pod were unaccounted for, as of Monday afternoon.
“There’s a lot of rescue workers coming in, actually, the last couple of days,” said Shannon Mihal, who works in the area. “They’ve been waiting for boats to pick them up and take them down to where the whales are stranded to try to save them.”
Campers in the remote area of the Southwestern Everglades said they were shocked to see the dying whales. “The biggest male was actually in the process of beaching itself as I departed, and it was just, jam, jam,” said John Lawrence, a camper. “It was sand and water everywhere. People were scurrying, getting away from it and whatnot.”
The area is so remote that it is hard for crews to reach it. Officials also said that sharks have begun to show up to feed on the dead animals.
“Absolutely stunned. I had no idea that there were that many,” Mihal said. “I mean, we’ve been pretty busy here, but people coming in, telling us about the whales being stranded, but I only learned a little while ago that there are 95 of them that are dead, and they’re still trying to get the rest of them out. It’s heartbreaking.”
The whales ranged in age from calves to adults and male and female.
There is still no word on what caused them to beach themselves. However, they are currently investigating the rare occurrence and are collecting samples.
Officials told 7News beaching was not the only threat this species faced. “These animals are stranded in a very remote location, very far off shore, and we are dealing with sharks and things like that,” said Blair Mase of NOAA Fisheries. “It’s a very conscious effort.”
According to NOAA, there are only two other known beachings in Florida of this particular species. In 1986, 20 false killer whales beached themselves in Key West, and in 1989, 40 false killer whales beached themselves off of Cedar Key. However, there have been other mass beachings of this species in other parts of the world.
“It looked like a horror to me,” Lawrence said.
The NOAA and park service scientists are planning to pack up their boats and go to the remote location. They will then camp in the area for a number of days to resolve why the beaching occurred.
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