Prospects grim for pod of whales trapped in Florida everglades
FLORIDA – The images are heartbreaking. About 50 pilot whales, trapped and stranded in Everglade National Park. The pod is immobilized, some of the whales have died, and others are now being euthanized.
As of 7:30 (Pacific Time) on Wednesday, ten in total have been lost. The fate of the rest of them remains uncertain.
“It's certainly the case that they're not gonna be feeding so they need to get back to where they belong.”
Dr. Ann Bowles is a marine scientist at Hubbs Sea World research center in Carlsbad. The expert in marine mammals says she loves pilot whales, and they enjoy a special reputation. “They've been called the cheetahs of the sea; they're very fast, very strong.”
But these nomads of the sea are trapped in water that's only three to four feet deep. Even with human intervention, it won't be easy to save them.
“If you show up in that area they're not gonna be able to help you out, 'cause they're not gonna understand the signals they're getting from you.”
Scientists like Dr. Bowles who study these animals say pilot whales form strong social bonds. and that characteristic may have lead to the stranding.
“A leader or a charismatic individual is the one who has come in for some reason and the others simply follow them… and end up getting stranded.”
In May of 2011, staff from SeaWorld tried to rescue two stranded pilot whales in Key West. A 2012 mass stranding in New Zealand involved about 100 pilot whales.
SeaWorld in San Diego plays an active role in the stranding network – sort of an emergency first responders group that's summoned to help.
While scientists say they don't really understand the cause of mass strandings, they speculate it could have something to do with pollution, disease, or when something happens to the leader of the pod.
What happens next to the pod in Florida depends on if the animals can be returned to deep water. But that's some 20 miles away, and may not be possible. A humane choice may need to be made.
“In that case, they'll be given an overdose of some sort of anesthetic,” says Dr. Bowles. “If you love animals, it does tear at you… but I also want to know why.
“That information can help other animals in the future.”