Dozens of false killer whales stranded off South Florida


18 January, 2017

Dozens of false killer whales, a type of dolphin, were stranded in Florida's Everglades National Park.

Because the false killer whale's status is classified as "Data Deficient" on the IUCN Red List, NOAA, along with state and federal wildlife agencies have been taking the stranding of the pod that numbered almost 100 very seriously. They are usually found in groups of 10 to 20. The black-and-grey dolphin has a small conical head without a beak, a tall dorsal fin, and flippers (pectoral fins) with a distinctive bulge.

NOAA's stranding network first got the report of a whale spotted near Hog Key on Saturday.

The dolphins had become "deeply embedded in some of the mangroves making response efforts extremely hard", Blair Mase, a stranding coordinator with NOAA's fisheries service, said in the Miami Herald newspaper. Mase of NOAA told reporters. "The whales that were beached were scattered and spread out all along the shoreline and deeply embedded into the mangroves making response efforts extremely hard".

Of the 95 false killer whales stranded, 81 had died by Monday, NOAA announced.

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In the early 1990s, a survey counted almost 400 in the northern Gulf of Mexico with just over 1,000 estimated globally.

False killer whales are not actually all that closely related to their famed animal brethren, the killer whale. "The last time this happened was in 1986 when a pod of 40 swam close to Cedar Key, but only three stranded themselves", Mase said. The mammals are known to travel in large groups.

The year before, more than 177 short-beaked common dolphins were stranded on Cape Cod in MA, of whom 53 survived.

No boats or flyovers are allowed near the scene as the National Park Service has closed off the area for safety reasons. But larger strandings, involving pods of more than 100 dolphins, have occurred in Australia and South America. Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory is working with other agencies to better understand the unusual occurrence that ultimately led to the deaths of 82 whales. Wolf said it may have interfered with their ability to use echolocation to navigate the shallow waters.

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