The Dolphins Plus Oceanside Marine Mammal Responders unit was called into action on Sunday, January 15, 2017. A large pod of false killer whales – which, as their name suggests are actually a large species of dolphin often mistaken for orcas – had beached themselves among the gnarled mangroves on the western edge of Everglades National Park the night before.
The pod consisted of 95 male and female adults, juveniles, and calves stranded about 54 miles north of Marathon. The nearest help was a critical hour-long boat ride away. The mammals were scattered throughout the area, and were facing not only shallow water and tangled mangrove roots, but sharks and other predators as well.
The MMR team worked closely with and was aided by several other agencies including NOAA Fisheries, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard. While rescue attempts extended well into Monday, many were unfortunately unable to be saved. Although a terrible tragedy, there may be hope for the future, as several of those that perished are being studied extensively for clues to the cause of the mass stranding.
Thankfully, an event of this magnitude is rare, being only the third recorded stranding of false killer whales in Florida since 1986.