A pod of 31 pilot whales that stranded themselves across five miles of beach on the northern Outer Banks Saturday have all either died or had to be euthanized, according to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service
The whales washed up across about five miles of beach near Oregon Inlet, North Carolina.
NOAA Fisheries coordinated a response to the whale strandings with Coast Guard crews and National Park Service personnel.
Twenty-four pilot whales died, and another seven were euthanized because they were too badly hurt to survive, officials reported.
In stormy weather, a single minke whale that was found on the beach in Corolla on the northern Outer Banks had to be euthanized Saturday.
Near Buxton on Sunday, the body of a pygmy sperm whale was found along with another so sick it had to be euthanized, the “Virginian-Pilot” newspaper reported.
Working in cold, wet weather, marine biologists gathered tissue and fluid samples from the whales in an attempt to learn why the marine mammals beached themselves. The samples will be sent to labs across the country for analysis.
Laura Engleby, NOAA Fisheries marine mammal biologist, said, “It’s always tough when large numbers of marine mammals strand themselves like this, but we are continuing to learn as much as we can about why this happens, and what we can do to help.”
The pilot whale, like the killer whale, is a member of the dolphin family, and is second only to the killer whale in size. Very social in their habits, pilot whales are well known for stranding in groups of a few animals to several hundred at a time.
Pilot whales have been documented stranding themselves in New England, Florida, New Zealand, Australia, and the Falkland Islands, but scientists have not determined why the whales do so.
Pilot whales are among the most common and widely distributed whales in the world. In the United States, pilot whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but they are not an endangered species.