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Rescuers save 46 stranded whales

Nine whales died on hot beach

Dozens of volunteers help keep more than 50 beached pilot whales moist until high tide comes in.  

DENNIS, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Rescuers successfully pushed 46 of 55 stranded pilot whales back into the water of Cape Cod Bay on Monday. The remaining nine whales died on the hot beach, they said.

The rescuers, from the Cape Cod Stranding Network and other facilities, worked to keep the whales' body temperature down until the tide rose enough to enable them to be moved into deeper water.

"Things appear to be going better than could even be hoped," said Scott Landry, a marine biologist with the Stranding Network.

The whales were discovered early Monday morning near Chapin Beach in Dennis. Most were clumped together in a group that included adults and young. Volunteers poured water on the whales and covered them with sheets and towels to regulate their body temperatures.

"The unusual part about this particular stranding is that it was such a large number of individuals in [July]," Landry said. Most such strandings occur in the spring or fall.

"The biggest problem that we're going to face is heat. ... these animals overheat very quickly," he said. "And so the volunteers spent most of the morning putting water on the animals and shading them with sheets. The idea is to keep their body temperature normal."

CNN's Bill Delaney describes how rescuers pushed the whales into deep water (July 29)

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 Pilot Whales (Globicephala melaena)
Size: 13 feet long, 1,800 pounds

Primary food: squid

Range: Western North Atlantic, from North Carolina to Greenland.

Tend to strand both individually and in herds

Source: Marine Mammal Stranding Center

The whales had to be pushed off in bunches, he said. Individuals pushed off are likely to try to rejoin the group on the beach.

The carcasses of the nine dead whales were being removed from the beach one by one.

Technically pilot whales are big dolphins. They range from 12 feet to 25 feet long and from 1.5 tons to 3 tons or more for adults. They are also known as blackfish.

Strandings of pilot whales are not unusual on Cape Cod and at a few other locations around the globe.

Scientists are still speculating on the reasons for such strandings. While there is no firm conclusion, it is generally believed the whales play follow the leader when the lead whale in a pod becomes disoriented due to illness or gets lost in the shallow water.

When they strand, it's often a struggle to get them to survive. For reasons that are not at all understood, whales returned to deeper water will sometimes turn right around and beach themselves again.

Scientists say Monday's incident is one of the largest mass strandings of pilot whales in the Cape Cod area since the early 1990s. The incidents include:

  • 94 white-sided and common dolphins that beached from Dennis to Wellfleet in January 1998;
  • 11 pilot whales that stranded on Nantucket on July 4, 2000;
  • 23 whales that came ashore by the Pamet River in Truro in December 1992.


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