Nearly a week after 51 pilot whales were found stranded in Everglades National Park, 22 have died and 29 remain unaccounted for, a NOAA Fisheries official said Monday.
A team that included two veterinarians and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration biologists were examining the 11 pilot whales that were found dead in the lower Florida Keys Sunday, just days after the mass stranding in a remote part of the western Everglades.
“And they will be collecting samples for analysis that will hopefully provide clues as to why the whales stranded," said Blair Mase, the NOAA Fisheries Southeast marine mammal stranding coordinator.
Necropsies will be performed on the dead whales, which were discovered around 1 p.m. Sunday at Snipe Point just north of Sugarloaf Key. They were found within several feet of each other, according to Mase.
The whales are believed to be from the pod of 51 whales that was found stranded Tuesday in shallow waters at Highland Beach, a remote area of the western boundary of Everglades National Park in Monroe County on the Gulf Coast.
It's not known where the rest of the whales are.
Mase noted that the animals, which normally live in very deep water, have been out of their normal home range for almost a week at least. They will start succumbing to health problems such as dehydration and malnutrition, she said.
“And really, that’s what our vets have reported so far today on scene, was that many of these whales are showing signs of emaciation and malnutrition,” she said.
A total of 20 whales in three pods were spotted moving south in the Everglades on Friday, according to Mase.
Pilot whales are the most common to end up in mass strandings because of their cohesive nature.
Mase said Monday that after the latest group of 11 dead whales was found, the Coast Guard Auxiliary flew over the Lower Keys and did not see any more whales nearby.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary continues to fly over the area. Meanwhile, Mase encouraged fishermen and boaters to report any sightings of whales, alive or dead, to 1-877-WHALE-HELP.
“We’re being vigilant. Our eyes are open, because there is a possibility that there could be more whales in the area, but it is fairly remote, and there’s a lot of islands and such where they could be," she said.