KEY LARGO (CBS4) –  A 13 foot pilot whale named Caroline is getting lots of attention as she swims around her pen in Florida Bay in Key Largo.

Normally, a whale swimming is business as usual, but not for Caroline.  She was on death’s door step back in May, that’s when more than 2 dozen pilot whales beached themselves in the lower keys.  She’s one of only 4 that survived.

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“Prior to this she had difficulty breathing,” explained Robert Lingenfelser from the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo.  “Now that those lungs are opened up and she’s getting over the pneumonia, she’s doing much better.”

Lingenfelser has been caring for Caroline. While she’s getting over her lung problems, she still suffers from scoliosis – a curvature of the spine.  For the time being – she still needs 24 hour care.  That’s where volunteers come in.

“She’s a real fighter,” says Dana Smith, while talking about Caroline. “She has a great will to live. “

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Smith lives in Key Biscayne and drives to Key Largo at least once a week to help out, a journey she says, that’s well worth it.  “It’s just joy! Just joy,” she says. “A real positive energy, you’re giving to them, the whales, they give back to you.  You just keep coming back.”

Two other pilot whales who beached themselves at the same time as Caroline have been outfitted with tracking devices showed them swimming together all over the place – up to South Carolina, then back south to the Bahamas, and off the Cuban coast.

“They traveled over 6000 kilometers,” said Lingenfelser. “They held their breath up to 42 minutes at a time and diving to depths as deep as 45-hundred feet.”

Caroline will never see the open ocean again, the 15 to 20 year old whale will likely end up at a place like Seaworld.  That’s were fellow survivor “Fredi” lives now.  Caregivers say they’re ok with that  because Caroline fought hard to stay alive.

“She never gave up, those eyes were bright, she struggled” said Lingenfelser,”  “When we exercised her, she gave it her all. What you’re seeing here is an animal well on her way to recovery.”

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There’s no date set yet when Caroline will be moved.  In the meantime the Marine Mammal Conservancy stills need a lot of volunteers to help care for Caroline.  If you’d like to help, call the Marine Mammal Conservancy at 305-451-4774.

Ted Scouten