Mote Marine scientists investigate dolphin stranding

- Scientists tried saving dozens of false killer whales stranded off South Florida over the weekend.

It was the largest stranding of the fourth-largest dolphin in U.S history, with a total of 95 whales stranded in a remote area of a park near Hog Key. 

"The species is kind of rare for us to see in Florida," said Gretchen Lovewell, the stranding investigations program manager from Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

She traveled with a team to the Everglades National Park to research the stranding. Working with NOAA, The FWC and The University of Florida, Lovewell and her team did all that they could. 72 whales died on their own, 10 were euthanized and 13 remain unaccounted for.

"You sort of go into humane mode. We want to end their suffering if we can. The majority of those animals died on their own," she said.

Doctor Adrienne Atkins is a staff veterinarian for Mote Marine Laboratory. She helped collect tissue samples from eight whales. Scientists are hopeful those samples will help answer why this happened.

"That's a question that we've asked for a very long time. There's been mass strandings throughout history. There's lots of factors that can play into a stranding," said Dr.Atkins.

Two similar incidents happened in years past. In 1980, 40 whales stranded themselves along Cedar Key, but most were able to swim away. In 1986, 28 whales stranded themselves in Key West.

This testing could take months, and there's no guarantee a clear cut answer will develop. But scientists hope to get more information to work with in the future.

"Dolphins and whales have been doing mass strandings since we've known about dolphins and whales. Some of this may be just be natural life history that we are still trying to figure out," said Lovewell. 

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