EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK (CBSMiami/AP) — Eleven whales believed to be part of a pod that was stranded in the Everglades are dead, according to national wildlife officials.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official Blair Mase says wildlife workers spotted the dead whales Sunday afternoon on Snipe Point, about six miles north of Sugarloaf Key.
That brings the overall death toll to 22.
The U.S. Coast Guard and Florida wildlife officials wrapped up their efforts Saturday to help the pod of whales.
The National Park Service says aerial and boat survey teams could not locate the rest of the whales Saturday, a potentially encouraging sign that the rest have moved farther offshore.
The pod of 51 short-finned pilot whales was first spotted by a fishing guide December 3rd in the shallow waters off a remote section of the Everglades. The species is one of the most commonly involved in mass strandings.
Mase says that veterinary teams will try to determine whether any disease was a factor in the deaths.
Officials do not know the status of the remaining whales. The marine mammals were last seen alive on December 6th.
On December 5th, Wildlife experts were “cautiously hopeful” as dozens of short-finned pilot whales stranded Tuesday seemed to be heading back to home range in deeper waters. But after aerial observation, 20 of the whales were spotted moving closer toward shore, raising a red flag to experts.
The animals, according to Blair Mase the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator from NOAA fisheries, appeared to be moving slower and were disorganized.
“There may be something going on that we don’t understand,” said Mase. “This point in time herding may not be the best interest of the animal.”
Mase said that the whales slowing down could have been a sign that the animals were sick or exhausted from stranding.
“At some point,” Mase said, “we have to stand back and let nature take its course.”
The pod, which is typically 25-50 whales, was originally comprised of 51 whales. Eleven of those whales have died while several others are unaccounted for. Mase said that it’s possible they’ve swam out, also, sometimes whales do sink to the ocean floor once they die.