A pod of twenty-two whales washed up on the shore of a beach in South Florida on Saturday. Only five of the animals have survived the ordeal and volunteers have been working around the clock to save and rehabilitate them in time for a successful recovery and eventual release back into the ocean.
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The twenty-two pilot whales were discovered at Avalon Beach State Park in St. Lucie County, Florida early on Saturday morning. Animal experts arrived on the scene to give emergency medical assistance, but only five members of the pod survived. The remaining seventeen died of natural causes or had to be euthanized.
Among the organizations taking part in the rescue efforts are: Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, the Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Pelican Island Audubon Society, Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Institute and the North Treasure Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross, according to reports from the Palm Beach Post.
The group of surviving whales is comprised of two calves and three juveniles, with the youngest one less than two years of age. Animal experts have been feeding the whales fish smoothies through feeding tubes as they tried to re-acclimate themselves in a makeshift inflatable pool Saturday afternoon. The five survivors have since been transported to the Harbor Branch Institute for rehabilitation. The Huffington Post reports that it make take up to a week until the animals are well enough to be moved to their temporary new home at SeaWorld.
Steve McCulloch, manager of the Marine Mammal stranding network for Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University told the Palm Beach Post that this situation may have occurred because pilot whales are highly social animals that appear to take direction from one alpha individual. If that whale gets sick and beaches itself, the rest of the pod will follow suit without realizing it may kill them.
According to Blair Mase, stranding coordinator at the Southeast Region with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, pilot whales that inexplicably find themselves washed ashore are the species that most often beach themselves, at least in the state of Florida. The last beaching of this magnitude happened in early 2011 in the Florida Keys.