More short-finned pilot whales have been found dead Sunday afternoon and are believed to have been members of the larger pod of 51pilot whales found in shallow waters off the Florida Keys last week. The 11 whales were discovered by a fisherman on Snipes Point, located about 15 miles from Key West. This brings the death toll to 22 and the whereabouts of the remaining 29 whales are unknown.
The two species of pilot whales are the short-finned and the long-finned. Known for their high level of intelligence, this dolphin like whale tends to travel in large pods, sometimes numbering as many as 100. The pilot whale is found worldwide and in both tropical and temperate deep waters. Sadly, the pilot whale has a reputation of beaching itself and in large numbers. One theory for the beaching behavior is a parasitic infection that “affects the brain’s ability” to stay in deeper waters. Another belief is based upon the pilot whale’s strong social structure. If one of its members of the pod becomes sick and starts to travel toward shallow waters, the rest of the pod will follow even if it means a certain death sentence.
It is yet to be determined why the pilot whales traveled into the shallow waters of the Florida Keys. After the pod was discovered last week, attempts were made to guide the whales back into open water. However, it would seem that the whales decided to return to the shallow waters. According to Blair Mase, the southeast marine mammal stranding network coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, the 11 whales found at Snipes Point “appear to be emaciated and malnourished, which could be caused by either disease and/or from being in shallow water for so long.” Tests are being conducted at this time to determine whether or not disease is a factor for the pilot whales’ deaths.
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