December 5th, 2013
09:54 AM ET

Race to Save Stranded Pilot Whales Looking Bleak

The outlook for dozens of short-finned pilot whales stranded in shallow water off Florida's Everglades National Park "does not look good," wildlife officials said Wednesday.

"We want to set the expectations low" that the 41 remaining stranded whales can be saved, said Blair Mase, a marine mammal scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The assessment came as the number of dead whales climbed to 10, including four euthanized by wildlife officials after being found in "poor condition," Mase said.

Wildlife officials are unsure how long the pod of whales has been stranded. Fishermen spotted the whales, several of which had beached themselves, on Tuesday night in a remote area accessible only by boat off the west coast of the Everglades, park spokeswoman Linda Friar said.

CNN's John Zarrella says, "From the water we could see the rescuers trying to herd the whales, keeping them from heading to the beach where some have already died, moving them towards deeper water."

An attempt earlier in the day to herd the whales out of the park's remote Highland Beach failed.

Rescuers have been using five boats to create a blockade of sorts between the whales and the beach as part of the effort to keep them from beaching and simultaneously encouraging them to make their way back to the Gulf of Mexico, Friar said.

Necropsies were being performed to try to determine why the pod carried out a mass stranding.

"At this point in time, we don't know why this particular group is stranding," Mase said.

And no one is sure how much longer they can survive. "The rescuers will remain out there until they're saved or all hope is gone," Zarrella reports.

But the dilemma is the fact that these whale pods families.

“When some of them are in distress, stranded on the beach and die like those have already done, these other whales that are out there are very, very reluctant to leave.”

Philippe Cousteau, CNN Special Correspondent, environmentalist, and the host of CNNi's "Going Green," says it’s likely “one of them lost their way and the rest followed.” (SEE VIDEO BELOW)

Cousteau says rescue efforts are being complicated by a number of factors, including the massive size of the whales, the low tides and the remote location where they are stranded.

“It’s not a clear avenue straight into the ocean; it is a very windy route. And there are sand bars and as the tide goes up and goes down the whales can get stranded on those sand bars and that can compound and make the problem even worse for them.”

Still, “we never give up hope,” he says.

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