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25 pilot whales found dead along Gulf coastline in Collier County

In a continuing story that has marred Southwest Florida's pristine coastline for nearly a week, 25 short-finned pilot whales were found dead on Thursday, January 23, on Kice Island, just across Caxambas Bay from Marco Island.

Dolphins are common in the waters of Marco Island, but recent pilot whale sightings have sadly led to multiple strandings along the beach
Jeff Briscoe

The uninhabited island is part of the Ten Thousand Islands, a chain of mangrove islands located south of Cape Romano in Collier and Monroe Counties.

The whales were spotted by a passing boater and officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) quickly responded to the scene. The 16 females and 9 males were further described as looking emaciated and sickly by representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminsitration (NOAA).

These whales are believed to have originated from the same pod that was stranded a few miles north in Gordon's Pass on Sunday. Those animals were trapped in the Naples waterway on a low tide and many beached themselves, after unsuccessfully fighting the current to get back to deep waters. Officials from the FWC were able to tag those whales and help move them out to sea.

Sadly, it appears the mysteriously unhealthy condition of the cetaceans prevented them from recovering.

Biologists do not know the precise reason for these deaths. The cause similarly remains unknown for prior whale strandings in the general region last December, which occurred both in Everglades City and the Florida Keys.

Pilot whales are not normally found in the coastal waters of Southwest Florida, since the shallow depths deprive them of their typical diet, including squid and fish. Witnesses described the whales as disoriented at Gordon's Pass and it was feared that they were not eating.

Such strandings are not uncommon, however, as pilot whales are among the most social of all cetaceans and that characteristic occasionally gets them into trouble. The animals travel in pods of 15-30 individuals and will not abandon even a wayward member of the group. Furthermore, the entire pod is believed to be guided in their travels by a leader. And they will follow its direction, even if the leader becomes confused or sick.

Pilot whales are among the larger whales and can live between 40 and 60 years in the wild.

Following the example of earlier strandings, scientists likely will conduct autopsies of the whales in hopes that such a closer look may reveal more details of their unfortunate deaths.

The news of these fallen pilot whales at Kice Island follows the discovery of eight stranded whales earlier in this week on Lovers Key, located near Fort Myers Beach in Lee County.

The latest discoveries are not believed to have originated from the same pod, but concerns obviously grow that there may be a larger problem with these majestic creatures in our nearby waters.

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