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Whales lose their way in the Fla. Everglades

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The past couple of days have kept everyone’s attention in Fla. to the massive rescue effort of 51 whales by the members from various agencies, including the National Park Service and the Coast Guard. These pilot whales have been stranded in the Fla. Everglades since Tuesday morning, according to CBS News.

Rescuers have strategically positioned their boats and used sound vibrations from aluminum pipes in hopes of coaxing the whales away from the shore, said Blair Mase, coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's marine mammal stranding network.

Whales are extremely sensitive to sound vibrations. Sonar vibrations have been the cause of death to whales in extreme situations. In this case, sound can be of life saving help to the whales.

Rescuers returned to Highland Beach this morning to find the surviving whales had scattered along miles of coastline. Some whales remained in shallow water; others were unaccounted for. The Coast Guard reported that some of the whales appeared to be moving offshore.

Blair Mase said this afternoon that a Coast Guard helicopter spotted the two pods of whales swimming several miles north of their previous Highland Beach location. The whales were in about 12 feet of water and then moved into 3 feet of water and kicking up sand. Six died on the sand bar and four more were euthanized.

Mase said the rescue is difficult: The whales have spread out across 15 miles of remote beach an hour away from the nearest boat dock. There is no cellphone service, and the warm waters are teeming with hungry sharks.

"Some of the individuals are very close to death, and medically, it's the most humane thing to do, particularly if they can't be rescued," James Powell, executive director of the Sea to Shore Alliance, told "CBS This Morning."

These are short-finned whales, which swim in pod groups of 20-50. They swim up from the deep Gulf waters. Since they are very social centered within their group, they do not desert one another. This is a problem for the rescue workers who try to herd them back out to sea.

While some of these whales appear to be swimming back out to sea, the question to Marine specialists is why do whales get stranded?

"These sorts of strandings with pilot whales are not uncommon," said Phillip Clapham, who heads the Cetacean Assessment and Ecology Program at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle in an interview with NBC News this morning. It can be caused by viruses, parasites and human interaction.

Biologists in Florida have taken tissue samples from the 11 dead whales, and they'll be studying those samples for signs of toxins over the weeks and months ahead. Mase said she does not know why the pod of whales beached themselves but hopes necropsies from the carcasses will yield clues.

Mase said the NOAA-led rescue team was relieved to see that the whales were heading farther offshore on Thursday afternoon, although they still need deeper waters. "We are encouraged and hopeful, but there's no guarantee that they will continue offshore," she said.

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