Researchers perform necropsies on Pilot Whales
Biologists hope to find out why the ...
A Marco Island couple out shelling Thursday discovered 25 dead pilot whales on a nearby barrier island.
The discovery on Kice Island was the latest in a series of beached whale sightings around Southwest Florida. With at least 33 dead so far, researchers still don’t know why the whales have been beaching themselves and dying.
The investigation is looking at a wide range of possible causes, including military sonar. The NOAA hasn’t yet gotten an answer from the Navy on whether it was conducting exercises that could have caused the animals to come ashore.
The NOAA confirmed the 25 whales on Kice Island are the same ones that were rescued and steered out of Gordon Pass in Naples by a team of boats Sunday. Officials were able to identify the whales because they were marked with red streaks the first day they were found, said Blair Mase, a marine mammal stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Southeast.
"They were originally in Naples Bay, very close to shore," Mase said. The distance between the Naples Bay and Kice Island is about 16 miles.
Several thin whales lay dead on the sand Thursday night while others floated like buoys along the shoreline. Many of them had scrapes across their thin black skin. At least six of the whales appeared to be calves.
"It’s just devastating," said Amelia Tripp, who discovered the dead whales with her husband, Bill. "You hate to see it."
The Tripps arrived at the island around 10 a.m. and found the whales around 11 a.m. Amelia Tripp said she called a friend with connections to a local environmental group, who in turn alerted officials.
"Some of them had blood coming out of their mouths and the vultures were pecking their eyes out," she said. "It was pretty grotesque."
Researchers believe the whales had been there for 24 hours before they were found. They were all dead when researchers arrived, Mase said.
Necropsies, which are like animal autopsies, will be performed on those whales today. They were probably pushed ashore by the strong seas that came with a cold front, Mase said.
The pilot whale death count in Southwest Florida has reached at least 33, between two strandings that happened over two days. The other - at New Pass near Lovers Key State Park in south Lee County - claimed eight pilot whales, four of which died on their own and another four that had to be euthanized because they were so sickly.
Researchers have completed the necropsies on all of the eight whales that died in Lee County, but why they beached themselves remains a mystery, Mase said.
"They did all have empty stomachs, which is something we were suspecting, and that’s all we really know at this point," she said.
The two groups of whales could be part of the same pod, Mase said. Pilot whales often travel in groups of 30 to 50.
If it hadn’t been for the high seas, Mase said the whales may have eventually landed somewhere else because they were looking so unresponsive on Sunday.
"They have been out of their home range for quite a while," she said.
Amelia Tripp and her husband didn’t go shelling on Wednesday, but now she regrets skipping out.
"I wish we had been there," she said. "Maybe some of them would have still been alive."
News editor Ryan Mills contributed to this report.