On Monday, a pod of more than 80 false killer whales was discovered stranded off the coast of Southeast Florida, in Everglades. At the moment, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials are yet unsure what caused the whales to come so close to the shore.
81 false killer whales have died on Sunday, in spite of the environmentalists’ and local authorities’ efforts to drive them to deeper waters. Rescue crews worked continuously Saturday through Sunday searching for more individuals, as the first reports suggested the pod was composed of 100 false killer whales.
The lack of cellphone coverage and the threat of sharks waiting to feast on the helpless prey caught in the mangroves, as well as muddy flats hampered the rescuers’ efforts to safely release the whales back into the wild.
“The whales were deeply embedded in some of the mangroves making response efforts extremely difficult”, said Blair Mase, stranding network coordinator.
Researchers are not yet sure what caused the mass stranding at this point since little information is known about false killer whales. So far, scientists know that they are the fourth largest member of the dolphin family and generally live in deep waters in warm areas of the oceans. As opposed to orcas, though, the false killer whales lack the white oval surrounding the eye of their relatives.
Furthermore, scientists are not exactly sure how many false killer whales are left in the wild, either. However, a study conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated there were little over 1,000 false killer whales swimming in the Gulf of Mexico’s waters.
Now, researchers at NOAA are taking samples from the dead individuals in an effort to determine what caused the mass stranding. The scientists performed partial dissection on several subjects and full necropsies on others. They are looking at every possibility, from changes in tide and unusual weather to military sonar exercises. Prior to the incident, a federal court ruled against sonar testing by the U.S. Navy, as dolphins and other marine creatures that rely on sound generation were affected by low-frequency sound waves.
Similar mass strandings have occurred off the coast of northeastern Brazil in 2013 when 30 dolphins beached themselves in shallow sands. The biggest false killer whale mass stranding occurred in 1946 near a beach in Argentina, when approximately 800 individuals died.
Image Source: Wikipedia