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Whales to be euthanized after third grounding

Volunteers gave up their whale rescue efforts Tuesday after the whales stranded themselves a third time.  

WELLFLEET, Massachusetts (CNN) -- About 28 pilot whales were being euthanized Tuesday evening after stranding themselves for the third time in two days, and marine experts decided the animals were too exhausted to swim back to open sea.

The whales were all that remained of 55 who became stranded on a beach Monday at the southern end of Cape Cod Bay. Volunteers from the Cape Cod Stranding Network and other facilities managed to save 46 of them, but 44 of them were found stranded on a mud flat in the bay Tuesday.

Workers managed to get about 28 of them swimming again after the tide came in, but despite efforts of people in small boats to herd them to the north and open sea, the whales made their way to a marshy area and became stranded again. They were to be euthanized by injection.

View images of the two-day rescue effort 
Map of stranded whales' locations 
Six endangered manatees beach themselves  in Florida
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

Experts originally had thought they would be able to free only 10 to 12 of the whales from the mud flats because of their poor condition after Monday's ordeal. There was elation when they managed to get more than twice as many back in the water, but the joy was short-lived.

In the end, the pilot whales -- also called blackfish -- came to rest at Blackfish Creek, named after some 1,500 pilot whales were stranded there in 1884.

On Monday and in the first stranding Tuesday, rescuers kept the stranded whales wet and covered some of them with sheets to protect them from overheating in the warm sun. To get to the stranding site Tuesday, rescuers had to hike two miles across the mud flats.

Technically, pilot whales are large dolphins. They range from 12 feet to 25 feet long and from 1.5 tons to 3 tons or more for adults.

Strandings of pilot whales are not unusual on Cape Cod and at a few other locations around the globe. Dozens of dolphins died in 1999 when they stranded themselves on the same mud flats.

In a stranding last weekend near Perth, Australia, 54 false killer whales died after being stranded on a remote beach. Rescue efforts there were inhibited by the presence of sharks in the waters nearby.

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.


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