Three of the more than two dozen pilot whales that attempted to beach themselves Tuesday evening on St. Simons Island died, one of which had to be euthanized because it, separated from its pod, was not going to survive much longer in the water.
Original reports had it that two whales would not survive the event, but Wednesday, an update from the state Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division revealed the third whale that was in poor condition and died. Necropsies are in the works for the whales to try to figure out why they endeavored to beach themselves.
“A lot of times, no one knows (why whales beach themselves),” said Clay George, DNR whale biologist.
While short-fin pilot whales like to stay around warmer water, George said it’s highly unusual for them to be so close to shore.
The rest of the pod was seen Tuesday moving west through St. Simons Sound toward Brunswick, which, all things considered, was the wrong direction. The DNR Wildlife Resources Division announced around midnight Wednesday expressed hope the pod would keep moving and head out to sea.
Some hope for that appeared later Wednesday morning.
“The pod, or at least some of the whales, have been spotted off of St. Simons,” said Rick Lavender, spokesman with the DNR Wildlife Resources Division. “At this point, something called the National Marine Mammal Foundation — which works with us on dolphin research — they’re on the water and trying to help keep the pod from turning toward beach again.
“We are, of course, monitoring beaches. Our Sea Turtle Cooperative members have all been advised, so they know if any whales turn up, that we’re aware as soon as possible. And, we’ll also be monitoring the whales from the air. That’s kind of where we are at this point.”
Wednesday evening, George said he finally watched the viral video of beachgoers assisting the pod and said that assistance helped dodge a bullet.
“People had sent me some clips (Tuesday) night, when we were trying to get out to the beach with a few animals on shore, and I’m looking at this clip now of dozens that appeared to get to the point where they were almost stranded, and people were able to push them out as the tide was coming in, apparently,” George said. “Holy cow.”
The possibility still remains the pod could strand again, but hope is that the pilot whales continue to move further offshore.
This isn’t the only unusual pilot whale sighting in the Southeast this month. In Florida, a marine unit of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office spotted a pod near Gordon Pass, just south of Tampa.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in late May, two pods of pilot whales caused concern when they came close to the islands of Stronsay and Sanday in Scotland. Fortunately, they were observed moving back out to sea.
In late November of last year, around a hiker on Stewart Island in New Zealand discovered around 145 beached pilot whales, half of which were dead by the time they were found. According to a story by NPR, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation made the call that the survivors were in such poor condition that they had to be euthanized.
As baffling as any one mass whale stranding can be, they’re also not a modern occurrence.
A mass stranding sometime 6-9 million years ago was discovered in Chile after scientists turned up dozens of whale skeletons.