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Researchers Investigate the Death of Nearly 100 False Killer Whales in Florida

Jan 18, 2017 10:05 AM EST
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Researchers and wildlife officials are now looking into what can possibly cause nearly 100 false killer whales to enter into the brown, turbid waters of a remote coast in Southwest Florida, where most of them died overnight.

According to the report from WTKR, wildlife officials received a call of false killer whales beaching in the remote coast. After being confirmed of the beaching event, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission dispatched a team of law enforcement agents. The team was surprised by the severity of the situation. About 95 false killer whales were stranded in the brown, turbid waters near Hog Key and just north of Lostmans River.

"There are a lot of different factors that could potentially cause it," said Erin Fougères, the program administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southeast stranding network, in a report from Miami Herald. Fougères listed different condition that could influenced the whales' behavior, including changes in tide or unusual weather, red tide, or military sonar exercises.

With the help of the FWC stranding team based in Port Charlotte and staffs from Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, the team of law enforcement agents tried to lure the stranded false killer whales back into deep waters. The rescue team load two calves onto stretchers and carried alongside boats. They used the calves to lure the others. Between six to ten whales followed the boats into the deeper waters. However, the rescuers needed to abandon their mission because it is becoming too dark and the lack of cell phone coverage will make the rescue efforts more dangerous.

The rescue team returned the day after but most of the stranded whales have already died overnight. Large tiger and bull sharks feasting on the carcass of the dead whales make it dangerous for the rescuers to enter the water and help the other whales. In total, 72 of the whales died on their own overnight, ten were euthanized and 13 were missing.

Officials are still investigating the cause of what they considered to be the largest mass stranding of false killer whales in the history of the state. The rescue team has already completed full necropsies on six of the whales. They also performed partial dissection to the other whales and collected tissue samples from almost all of the 82 dead whales.

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