Rescue teams are remaining cautiously optimistic as a pod of 41 pilot whales slowly heads out to sea after spending two days stranded in a remote region of Florida’s Everglades National Park. The stranded whales were discovered Tuesday, when a fishing guide spotted four whales lying on the beach — by Wednesday, six of the whales had died, and four were so ill that they had to be euthanized by rescue crews.

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Image © US Fish and Wildlife Service

While rescue crews were having a difficult time herding the remaining whales out of shallow waters earlier in the week, by Thursday afternoon they were reporting that some progress had been made and there was reason to hope the whales might survive. Still, with a full 6 miles between the whales and the deep water where they normally live, there’s still the possibility that the whales might veer into dangerously shallow water again.

So far, it’s unclear why the whales ended up so far from their normal habitat. Necropsies are being performed on the dead whales to determine if parasites or another health problem could have been behind the mass stranding. In the meantime, rescuers are working to keep the surviving whales alive and healthy during low tide, and to drive them away from the area during periods of high tide using loud noises from aluminum pipes and engines.

Hopefully the operation can be suspended on Friday, assuming the whales continue to move into deeper water on their own. At present, they’re swimming in water that is only about 18 feet deep, while their normal habitat is close to 900 or 1,000 feet deep. The shallow waters have left the whales vulnerable to dehydration and malnutrition.

Via US News

Lead image © Steven Depolo