The Department of Natural Resources says a whale getting stranded on shore is a natural occurrence. But when six or more whales beach at once it’s not as common.
That’s what happened near St. Simons Island on Tuesday evening. A group of at least 25 pilot whales came near the shore, six of whom beached themselves in the surf.
“This is a pretty rare event for this many to strand,” Jason Lee, a program manager with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, says.
He says they don’t know why the pod of whales came to shore, but they have some theories.
“Sometimes we think that some of the leaders of the pod, you know, the navigators, as it were, end up sick or disoriented, and they just sort of lead the pod into the wrong place,” he says.
Pilot whales are members of the dolphin family that can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh as much as 3 tons. They are deep water animals, so they can get confused when they’re so close to the shore says Lee.
While a group of wildlife professionals and volunteers were able to get some of the whales back to sea, three of the whales died.
The surviving whales remained offshore Wednesday afternoon, Georgia DNR spokesman Rick Lavender said. He said the agency and conservationists from the National Marine Mammal Foundation were following the pod by boat in hopes of keeping it from turning back toward land.
The DNR plans to study the whales that died and credits the first responders with helping to save the others.
“We’re really fortunate that these whales were able to regroup,” says Lee. “They were pushed off the beach relatively soon.”
The whales beached and within a matter of a few hours the community responded. But Lee does urge caution for those who might see a whale stranded.
“These are big, thousand pound animals. It can be dangerous to do that. The whales also have certain dangerous infectious diseases occasionally, so touching them can be dangerous to humans and pets,” he says.
Lee encourages people to call the DNR or the police if there are any more beached whale sightings.
A helicopter searched by air Wednesday for more stranded whales and found none, Lavender said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.