Monroe County, FL (WBBH) — A total of 95 False Killer Whales, a type of dolphin, were stranded off the coast of Monroe County in South Florida, according to NOAA, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
It took us an hour and a half by boat to get to Porpoise Point in a remote area on the west side of Everglades National Park and north of Highland Beach.
The dolphins, according to NOAA, can weigh about 1,500 pounds and can be up to 20 feet long. The group says the animals are known to strand.
A representative from NOAA described this as a rare occurrence and the largest mass stranding of False Killer Whales in Florida.
The US Coast Guard flew over the area and spotted the animals late Saturday continuing efforts into Sunday. The team tried to herd the dolphins that were alive out further into the water but were not successful.
They were scattered and spread out, not swimming in unison. Some were deeply embedded into mangroves.
There was a report Monday morning of one live whale in which teams have been searching for.
Of the 95 dolphins total, 72 of them died, nine were humanely euthanized, and about 13 or 14 are unaccounted for. The mission today, according to NOAA, is to find them as US Coast Guard teams are up in the air again Monday. The count is a mix of males and females of all age classes from calves to adults.
“It was pretty interesting, definitely,” said Captain Joe Cassaro. “There were a bunch of dead whales sitting on the beach and people, I guess scientists, cutting them up.”
The cause of the stranding is yet to be determined. Necropsies are already being performed and the team continues to take samples. Because this was such a historic event, they expect this research will be used for a long time.
Cassaro says he has an idea of what happened to the mammals.
“I think they were just cruising along, the tide dropped out, and they found themselves on the beach.”
NOAA says the number one priority is safety for both the animals and the teams as they’re dealing with conditions which include sharks.
The area is difficult to communicate in as they’re out of range of cell service so they don’t get back any information until the end of the day.
Several agencies have partnered in the response effort including the Chicago Zoological Society, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the University of Florida, and several others.
There have only been two previous strandings of False Killer Whales in Florida.
One in 1986 in Key West where 28 animals were involved and another in 1989 at Cedar Key, which is near Tampa. That incident had 40 dolphins and most of them were able to swim away; just three were beached.