Team effort: Stranded pilot whales rescued from Redington Beach

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It took nine hours and a complete community effort to try and save five pilot whales found stranded Monday morning on Redington Beach in Pinellas County.

Three of the whales have returned to deeper water and the other two were taken to be checked by scientists before they are released.

When the whales were first discovered around 7 a.m., beachgoers, even some who were on vacation, jumped in to help.

“The first thing I said is, ‘I want to help,’” Breanna Blankenship told FOX 13 News. “They asked if anyone could come out and help and I went out.”

Crews set up temporary tents in the shallow water as deputies cordoned off the section of beach.

“We prioritize the animals over anything else, so that’s why you see the tents, to avoid the animals getting sunburned. We’re continuing to splash water on them and check their vitals. We check every time they take a breath. We just want to make sure they are as comfortable as possible,” Clearwater Marine Aquarium spokesperson Carlee Wendell explained.

Teams from NOAA, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Mote Marine and the FWC all ended up in the water to help save the stranded pod.

Short-finned pilot whales are known to live in tropical waters around the world. The whales typically spend a lot of time deep underwater, feeding on squid, fish, and octopus.

The whales found on Redington Beach weighed about 1,000 pounds each. Researchers don’t know why they stranded, but they do know pilot whales typically strand together if something happens to one.

That’s why the rescue mission focused on splitting them up.

“If we send all five out, there’s a good chance all five will not do well. We feel it’s better to split the group send three out of a similar age. Hopefully, someone will decide to lead the group and lead them out. The other group has a young animal that young animal could potentially be having problems.” explained Dr. Mike Walsh from the University of Florida.

The two smaller whales were hand-carried to a truck waiting to go to Howard Park in Tarpon Springs.

Bystanders and good Samaritans helped get the whales where they needed to go.

“We are all coming together. We want the best for the animals right now,” Lauren Miller said.

The other three whales were taken by boat to deeper waters. They will be tracked by scientists in hopes they won't end up back on the beach.

Whale strandings are not common along Florida's Gulf Coast but are not unprecedented. Last September, two pygmy killer whales died after stranding in Clearwater. Last fall, the state's red tide bloom -- which has since cleared -- also was blamed for the deaths of several dolphins, sea turtles, manatees, and birds.