Update on Pilot Whales

May 25, 2011 No comments By


The two stranded pilot whales released together on May 7th, stayed together and moved north in the Gulf Stream off the Atlantic Coast.

Four other whales appear to be recovering with the help of an army of volunteers working with the Marine Mammal Conservancy, in the Florida Keys.

These whales were the survivors of a group of about 21 whales that stranded together near Cudjoe Key, in the Florida Keys on May 5, 2011.

Tagged and released:

Two of the largest whales, both males, were judged by veterinarians to be healthy enough, to be returned to the sea.

Prior to release, they were tagged with small satellite linked transmitters attached to their dorsal fins. The transmitters provide data on location and dive patterns.

After moving north, the whales moved generally counter-clockwise off the South Carolina coast,  where they followed prevailing currents called a gyre (see map).

Pilot Whale May 23rd tracking map

The track of two pilot whales moving north to an area off Charleston, SC. Each carried a satellite linked transmitter. Signals were received from only one of the transmitters on May 23, 2011.

This gyre, which is off the edge of the Continental Shelf, may be a good feeding area for whales.

The dive patterns of the two whales appear to be very similar, and this similarity has remained consistent over time.

On May 23rd, signals were lost abruptly from one of the transmitters.

Given the whales’ previous behavior, researchers speculate that the loss of signal resulted from failure of the transmitter, or attachment on the whale’s dorsal fin, rather than a gradual decline in the health of the whale.

Researchers will continue to monitor signals from the remaining transmitter.

Meanwhile back on shore:

Four pilot whales were transported to a rehabilitation center where they continue to receive around-the-clock care.

An army of volunteers is helping with the recovery of the whales at an rehabilitation center operated by the Marine Mammal Conservancy..

According to a May 23rd article in the Miami Herald, the effort is showing promising results due to the efforts of hundreds of volunteers.

“Blair Mase, the Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Southeast Region, is cautiously optimistic that 3 of the whales will recover enough to be released. The fourth is thought to be too young to survive without its mother, and would be placed in a public display facility.



This tagging effort and follow-up monitoring is supported by the NOAA Prescott Grants program. The satellite-linked transmitters were attached to the whales’ dorsal fins by SDRP Director Dr. Randall Wells, at the request of NOAA Fisheries. The rehabilitation effort is being conducted at the Marine Mammal Conservancy, in collaboration with NOAA.


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About the author

Blair Irvine, PhD, is retired and manages the SDRP website, serves as President of the non-profit Dolphin Biology Research Institute, and he volunteers as otherwise needed. He started the SDRP in 1970 with then-high school student Randy Wells. Blair led the research into the late-1970’s when Randy took over. After that, Blair's non-dolphin career was in the area of human behavioral health. With NIH support, much of his research was involved Internet interventions and training programs. His graduate degrees are in Zoology, Exercise Physiology, and Health Education.
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