25 whales found dead near Marco Island
KICE ISLAND, Fla. - A growing number of pilot whales are being found dead off the coast of Southwest Florida.
In all, 33 whales have died just this week, 25 of those found dead Thursday on Kice Island in Collier County.
From markings on their fins, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have determined those on Kice Island, which is just south of Marco Island, are the same found stranded Sunday near Naples.
Another group showed up Monday near Lover's Key in Lee County. Eight of those either died or had to be euthanized.
Reporter Kelli Stegeman talked to marine experts who say the struggle may not be over.
Many of the whales this week were emaciated and weak. Officials with NOAA say if the whales weren't found dead on Kice Island, it's likely they would have died somewhere else.
Locals, however, didn't expect to stumble upon them like they did.
Amelia Tripp alerted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission of her find after stumbling upon the dead whales Thursday afternoon during her daily Kice shelling adventure.
"I was out shelling and came across the whales which were washed up and dead already," said Tripp.
She snapped photos of the beautiful island that is now a graveyard.
"It was quite, quite, quite the sight," Tripp said.
She has been closely following the plight of the pilot whales in the news.
This group of whales is the same that was spotted over the weekend in Gordon Pass near Naples.
"Because they were marked, we were able to confirm that these were the same group of whales that were originally seen on Sunday," said Blair Mase, a marine mammal scientist with NOAA.
She says the pilot whale strandings this week along with a different group found struggling in the Everglades in December are anything but normal.
"I would say it is unusual and it is something we are looking into," Mase said.
The investigation is now focusing on why this is happening. NOAA is even checking with the Navy to see if any recent sonar activity is to blame.
"But we may also not know the ultimate cause of death," Mase said.
A handful of whales from the pod are still missing. Their outlook on survival isn't so good.
Experts believe the cold front and high wind Wednesday washed the whales ashore on Kice Island.
A team with NOAA is heading out to the island Friday to start the necropsies.
It will be weeks or even months until results are in.