Twenty-two pilot whales beached themselves at Avalon Beach State Park in St. Lucie County on saturday. Hundreds of residents flocked to the beach to help save the whales.
“They were getting crushed, they kept getting turned sideways, their blowholes were covered with water, and they were literally drowning because whales are mammals and they need oxygen to survive,” said Brett Tougas.
Volunteers worked all day. First keeping the whales upright so they could breathe. If turned sideways they are unable to breathe under their weight. Once stabled on the beach, bucket brigades formed to keep their skin wet. The Red Cross was on hand to keep the volunteers hydrated.
Blair Mase, stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Southeast Region (NOAA), explained it is useless to push them back into the water. These whales are very social and will not leave one behind. “They’ll stay together,” she said, “if you push them into the water, they’ll just keep coming back and stranding themselves again.”
Pilot whales are the largest next to killer whales in the dolphin family. People are drawn to them because they are social and highly intelligent. Many consider them the human counterparts of the ocean.
Of the 22 beached whales, five were saved. The rest either died of natural causes or were humanely euthanized. Two calves and three juveniles, transported to Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Institute, under 24-hour monitoring.
The youngest whale, a female under the age of 2 still nursing, was swimming around the group calling and whistling for her mother. Her mother did not survive.
The survivors will remain for a week at the Harbor Institute before making the two-hour trip to Seaworld where they will rehabilitate. The goal is to eventually release the whales back into the ocean.
Human beings are a strange breed, capable of the cruelest actions against our own. When moved, humans also can work together selflessly. South Florida saw the best in humanity. Hundreds volunteered all day in the sun to save these beached whales not for self glory, not for profit, but simply because it was the right thing to do.
It is unknown at this time why the pod beached. Often times one or more have a brain infection. Necropsies will be performed.