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NOAA Responds to Pilot Whales Stranding in Southwest Florida

View slideshow Pilot whales in trouble off Lover's Key, Florida. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 01pilotwhalestranding.jpg 02pilotwhalestranding.jpg 03pilotwhalestranding.jpg 04pilotwhalestranding.jpg 05pilotwhalestranding.jpg

For the latest developments on this stranding event, follow @NOAAFish_SERO on Twitter. 

Help marine mammals in trouble using your smartphone. Learn more from NOAA Fisheries' Southeast Regional Office.

About Pilot Whales

Short finned pilot whales, like all marine mammals, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but they are not endangered. They are the most common species to mass strand. These whales are a tight cohesive species—when one animal is sick or ill, they may stay close by even if it means they are coming to shore. The last pilot whale mass stranding in this area of Florida was 1995, although there have been others in the Florida since then; most recently a mass stranding of 23 pilot whales at Ft. Pierce, Florida, in September 2012 and a mass stranding of 23 pilot whales in Cudjoe Key, Florida, in May 2011. The lifespan of male pilot whales is 35-45 years, and for females, at least 60 years.

Learn more about short-finned pilot whales.

About the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program

As part of the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, NOAA Fisheries is the lead agency to coordinate a national stranding network to rescue and investigate marine mammal strandings. The stranding network includes volunteers in all coastal states who work directly with NOAA Fisheries stranding coordinators to respond to stranding events.

Scientists also investigate and document possible links between toxic substances found in marine mammals and the cause of death or stranding. These studies contribute to a growing, worldwide effort of marine mammal biomonitoring, not only to help assess the health and contaminant loads of marine mammals, but also to assist in determining human impacts on marine mammals, marine food chains, and marine ecosystem health.

To report an injured, entangled, or stranded marine mammal in the Southeastern United States, please call 1-877-WHALE HELP.

5:00pm EST, January 24, 2014

On Sunday, January 20, 23 pilot whales were reported in Naples, Florida. Initially, some of this group was reported stranded in shallow water, but the whales moved out of Naples Bay alive. On Monday, January 21, 14 more pilot whales were either stranded or swimming freely around Lover's Key State Park in Lee County, Florida.  Eight of these pilot whales either died or were humanely euthanized over Monday and Tuesday, January 22.  On Thursday, January 23, 25 deceased pilot whales were discovered on Kice Island, Florida. On Friday, January 24, a team of scientists performed necropsies on some of the deceased whales. For more details on how this pilot whale stranding has unfolded, read the day-by-day report of this event below.

Citizens are encouraged to use the new Dolphin & Whale 911 app to report stranded dolphins, whales, and seals in the Southeastern United States on their smartphones.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The response to the 25 pilot whales stranded on Kice Island, Florida, is complete. The team divided into two—one for necropsy and one for external sampling. Of the 25, three were calves (2 males, 1 female). Scientists completed a full necropsy on 6 animals, while others were too decomposed to collect adequate samples from. There were no obvious signs of human interaction externally and the whales were thin. Rookery  Bay Reserve will frequently check Kice Island. Today's partners included NOAA, Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Rookery Bay Reserve, Marine Animal Rescue Society, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Collier County Sheriff.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

25 deceased pilot whales—16 females and 9 males—were discovered on Kice Island, Florida. The whales were first spotted by a boater and confirmed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A team of scientists will perform necropsies on these deceased whales on Friday morning. This group of 25 deceased whales was from the main group of whales originally spotted in Naples Bay on Sunday, January 20—a location 16 miles north of Kice Island. Biologists were able to mark these whales on Sunday, and based on these markings, they can confirm that the whales were the same ones originally spotted in Naples Bay before they headed offshore and south.

Some of the eight whales necropsied from Lover’s Key, Florida, were emaciated; however, the cause of the strandings and mortalities has not yet been determined. Because two pilot whale mass stranding events have occurred so closely together in the same general area (Everglades in December and Naples/Lover’s Key in January), scientists are closely monitoring any future stranding trends and are continuing to investigate the cause of death. 

Listen to a recording of a press media call held on Thursday, January 23:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

An aerial survey will deploy in the morning looking for more pilot whales in the Lover's Key area. Crews will continue to necropsy the eight dead whales from the Lover's Key location. Two will be necropsied at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Pathobiology Laboratory in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the remainder will be necropsied at Lover's Key State Park.

The response team included the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Lee County Sheriff's and Fire Departments, Mote Marine Laboratory, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, University of Florida, Marine Animal Rescue Society, Lover’s Key State Park staff, and NOAA.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Crews continued response efforts to the Lover's Key animals where four more animals died, two of these were euthanized. Unfortunately, the euthanized whales had little life in them and the vets decided it was in the best interest of the animals to prevent a more painful death. This leaves a total of eight dead pilot whales from this location over two days. Six of the 14 whales originally spotted in this location on Monday were unaccounted for after boat and aerial surveys were conducted throughout the day Tuesday looking for them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

14 additional pilot whales were either stranded or swimming freely around Lover's Key State Park in Lee County, Florida - which is the county immediately north of Collier County. By Monday evening, four of these whales died, two of which were euthanized. 

Additionally on Monday, the 23 whales originally spotted off Naples on Sunday were confirmed swimming 2 miles off Marco Island, Florida, just south of Naples.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

23 pilot whales were reported in Naples, Florida (Collier County) around Gordon Pass in Naples Bay. Initially a couple of the whales were reported stranded in shallow water. By the end of the night, all whales made it out of the bay alive.


NOAA Fisheries scientists are also investigating a recent pilot whale stranding off the Florida Everglades in December 2013.