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Georgia beachgoers rushed through the surf on Tuesday in a frantic effort to rescue dozens of pilot whales beaching themselves on the shore, according to wildlife officials and video shared on social media.
The whales appeared off the shoreline at St. Simons Island and some repeatedly beached themselves despite the effort to push the mammal’s back out to sea, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said in a statement on Wednesday.
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“While stranding is a known natural occurrence, the only thing we can do is to continue pushing them out to sea,” wildlife biologist Clay George said in the DNR statement.
Videos posted to social media showed a large number of whales washing up onto the beach. Some beachgoers push the beached mammals back into the water. Others held back the whales in the shallow waters to prevent them from hitting the shore.
It was unclear how many from the pod beached themselves on the island, though video showed several creatures laying on the shoreline.
Wildlife personnel and onlookers saved most of the pod, the DNR said. Two whales died and a necropsy will be performed.
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The agency said the remaining members of the pod were last seen swimming in the sound, and they hope the whales will follow the tide out to sea.
The whales were likely confused as they normally stay more than 100 miles offshore, George told the Brunswick News.
Georgia DNR personnel and beachgoers struggle to keep a short-fin pilot whale from crashing into the seawall. (Bobby Haven /The Brunswick News via AP)
Pilot whales are the most common species among cetaceans involved in mass strandings, the DNR said.
The species’ largest mass strandings on record have consisted of several hundred pilot whales, according to the American Cetacean Society (ACS).
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While experts haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact cause of these beachings, the ACS says it’s partly due to the mammals’ social nature and may occur “from persistence to keep the group together.”
Pilot whales are members of the dolphin family and second only to the killer whale in size, the group said. Adult males can grow to 20 feet in length and weigh as much as 3 tons.
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