Death toll of beached pilot whales rises to 8

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Eight pilot whales found beached in shallow waters off Florida's southwest coast will be examined in the hopes of unraveling an underwater mystery as to how they died, authorities said Tuesday.

The whales where found in the Lovers Key State Park, near Fort Myers, said. Erin Fougeres, marine mammal biologist and stranding program coordinator for NOAA Fisheries.

Pilot whales live in deep water and usually make their home at least 20 miles off the coast of Florida, so when they swim inland, that's often a sign they are suffering from some kind of toxicity or disease. The whales tend to travel in pods of a couple dozen or more and follow one or two leaders, or navigators.

Four were found dead and two others were euthanized and taken by truck to a lab Monday night; two more stranded in shallow waters Tuesday were being euthanized.

"They are in very poor condition," Fougeres said of the stranded whales. They are thin, have not been eating normally and are dehydrated, she said.

Kevin Baxter of the Florida Wildlife Research Institute said the state does not know the location of other whales spotted Monday, and that helicopter pilots are searching for the main pod in the Gulf of Mexico.

Veterinarians from the Mote Marine Laboratory, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and University of Florida are also involved in finding the missing pod and determining how or why the whales died.

In December, more than 50 pilot whales got stranded in Everglades National Park. Several died.

Farther south, officials had been monitoring two dozen more pilot whales off the coast of Collier County, but Blair Mase, a regional stranding coordinator for NOAA's Fisheries Service, said those whales were last seen about 2 miles offshore Monday, a sign that they were not in immediate danger.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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