EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Florida -- A fisherman first spotted the whales on Tuesday, but because the area near Highland Beach in Monroe County is so isolated, the whales could have been there for days.
What is known is that these short-finned pilot whales are about 20 miles from their normal territory -- the Gulf's deep waters. On Wednesday, a rescue team headed by NOAA tried to herd the whales in the right direction, but the boaters were unsuccessful.
"Between the whales and deep water is a series of sandbars and sand flats and channels and it would be very difficult for the whales to navigate out on their own," said NOAA stranding coordinator Blair Mase.
Pods of pilot whales do frequently strand and the reasons vary, but pods are like a family and if one member comes ashore the others will follow and stick around -- even if it puts their own lives in jeopardy.
"They're a very tight-knit social group," explained Mase in a conference call late Wednesday afternoon.
So far, six of the whales have died on the sand and four others were in such poor shape they were euthanized. But the 41 remaining are still swimming and if they could somehow be guided to deep water, there's a chance of survival.
Rescuers are reaching out to experts around the world for advice. However, with no food in the area and dehydration worries, for these whales the survival clock is ticking down.
"We're going to explore, we're going to work hard to see if we can save any," said Mase. "But we want to set the expectations low as the challenges are very, very difficult."
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