80 False Killer Whales Dead in Mass Stranding

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Image courtesy of NOAA

By MarEx 2017-01-17 21:14:09

Over the weekend, nearly 100 false killer whales were found stranded on a mangrove shoreline in the Florida Everglades, and biologists are trying to determine why they headed for the shallows. It is the largest recorded stranding of the species in Florida's history. 

The Coast Guard spotted the whales on Saturday near Hog Key, a peninsula in the middle of Everglades National Park’s coastline. The remote location made it challenging for biologists to get to the scene, and the National Park Service provided aerial flyovers to help scientists locate the animals and navigate the area by boat. 

First responders with NOAA and Florida Fish and Wildlife tried to herd the animals back out into deeper waters, but the attempt was largely unsuccessful. They were “deeply embedded in some of the mangroves, making response efforts extremely difficult,” NOAA stranding network coordinator Blair Mase told the Miami Herald. She added that poor cell reception and the presence of sharks made the work even more challenging. 

To date, 82 animals have died and 13 are unaccounted for. In the coming months, biologists will try to determine why the stranding happened by using samples collected during necropsy.

False killer whales are large members of the dolphin family. Fully grown specimens can reach 20 feet in length and up to 1,500 pounds, and they can live for up to 60 years. They have a relatively slender body shape, a tall dorsal fin and a distinctive hump in the middle of the front edge of their flippers. 

The animals live in groups of 40-100 individuals and are known to strand in large numbers. They are at a relatively low risk of depletion worldwide, according to IUCN Red List, but an insular population in the Hawaiian Islands is on the U.S. Endangered Species List.