Mote: 'Touch and go' for stranded pygmy killer whales

Two pygmy killer whales are receiving round-the-clock care at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota and remain in critical condition, rescuers say. 

The two mammals -- which are technically part of the dolphin family -- were found stranded in the shallow waters of Sand Key in Clearwater Wednesday morning and taken to Mote, where they're being given fluid therapy and antibiotics. 

RELATED: Crews rescue two distressed pygmy killer whales from Sand Key beach

Rescuers say the whales, now nicknamed "Thunder" and "Lightning," are having trouble swimming on their own so they are being supported by people in the tank and walked around.

"It's going to be really touch and go for a while," said Gretchen Lovewell, the program manager for Mote's Stranding Investigations Program. 

The whales have shown signs of having parasites and they will be tested for the red tide algae Karenia brevis, but biologists are still not sure whether red tide, which has been detected more than 10 miles off the coast of Pinellas County, is what brought these offshore animals to strand themselves.

"We don't know. These animals mass strand pretty commonly when they do come close to shore," Lovewell said. "We are certainly going to test for it."

Lovewell said when one animal gets sick and finds itself swimming toward shore, other whales may accidentally follow, so it's hard to pinpoint a reason for mass strandings. 

Right now, the whales require 24-hour care. Biologists plan to stabilize them in an effort to eventually return them to sea, but it's too early to tell whether they'll recover.