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20 whales found dead off SW Florida; high seas may have stranded them

By Mayra Cuevas and Matt Smith, CNN
updated 7:21 PM EST, Thu January 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The dead whales were found on Florida's Kice Island
  • They're believed to have been washed ashore amid high seas
  • It's the second set of strandings in the area this week

(CNN) -- A total of 20 pilot whales have been found dead on an island off southwestern Florida, possibly driven ashore by high seas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

A boater reported the whales early Thursday afternoon near Kice Island, south of Naples, said Blair Mase, NOAA's Southeastern stranding coordinator. Their bodies were found above the normal tide line, suggesting that seas whipped by strong westerly winds may have led to their running aground, Mase said.

It's the second time this week that pods of pilot whales, which can reach sizes up to 25 feet, have found themselves in danger off the state's southwest coast. Of the 14 whales that were found off a state park near Fort Myers on Monday, eight died, including one pregnant female, NOAA said.

Necropsies on those animals have produced no significant findings that would point to a cause of death, Mase said. Some of the whales appeared emaciated, but others appeared to be in good shape, she said.

And in December, 51 pilot whales were stranded on the edge of Everglades National Park; only 29 survived.

About 2,400 pilot whales are believed to live in the Gulf of Mexico, according to NOAA. The species is not endangered, but they are covered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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