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Mass strandings of pilot whales not uncommon along Gulf Coast

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REDINGTON BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) – Five beached pilot whales were found beached along the shores of Redington Beach Monday morning.

As crews from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission worked to care for the animals, 8 On Your Side learned that this rare event isn’t new to the Tampa Bay area.

According to the American Cetacean Society, both species of pilot whales travel in groups of 20 to 90 and swim approximately 100 miles offshore. They usually beach themselves in groups when at least one is in distress.

The largest documented stranding of pilot whales happened in 1918 when an estimated 1,000 whales beached themselves at the Chatham Islands, 497 miles east of the South Island of New Zealand, according to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.

Just a few weeks ago, nearly 50 pilot whales beached themselves on St. Simons Island in Georgia. Three of those whales died.

Monday’s event is just the latest of around 23 mass strandings of pilot whales in Southeastern U.S. since 1991. Most of them have occurred along the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s a possibility that if one of them is sick, the others would follow,” Carlee Wendell from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium told 8 On Your Side. “So we’re trying to assess their body condition, give them general health assessments and figure out what’s going on with them.”

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