They weren’t supposed to be there.
More than two dozen short-fin pilot whales appeared in the surf off St. Simons Island and began to beach themselves at East Beach, before people pushed them back in the water. But at least two of the whales weren’t predicted to survive the night.
“One animal seems pretty incapacitated,” Clay George, a whale biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources, said shortly before 8 p.m. Tuesday. “We’re going to try to get it down to that little sandy spot, where we can euthanize it safely. There’s another one that (DNR biologist) Tim (Keyes) has right now, right in front of Coast Guard, same situation. And then we just have to hope that this group sticks together and doesn’t come ashore.”
By around 8:30 p.m., the pod moved west toward Brunswick.
George said these whales were likely extremely confused — they’re not used to seeing a sea bed under them. They typically spend their time more than 100 miles offshore, past the continental shelf. In terms of range, though, short-fin pilot whales span the globe from around 50 degrees north latitude to 40 degrees south latitude.
According to the American Cetacean Society, “Partly because of their social nature, pilot whales are often involved in mass strandings. In this century, mass strandings of as many as several hundred pilot whales at one time have been recorded.
“Although no one knows why these beachings occur, some may result from persistence to keep the group together. Other reasons may involve mis-navigation when following prey, when traveling (possibly due to irregularities in the magnetic field), or possible parasitic infections resulting in neurological disorders.”