North Carolina

Mystery grows as more whales - 73 so far - keep stranding themselves along Georgia

An estimated 26 short-finned pilot whales stranded on or near St. Catherines Island in Georgia on Wednesday, leaving 15 dead in Georgia’s second mass stranding this year.
An estimated 26 short-finned pilot whales stranded on or near St. Catherines Island in Georgia on Wednesday, leaving 15 dead in Georgia’s second mass stranding this year. Georgia Dept of Natural Resources photo

For the second time this summer, a group of pilot whales has mysteriously chosen a stretch of Georgia coast to beach themselves -- something that typically leads to their deaths.

In all, 73 whales have picked the same 35-mile stretch of Georgia to beach themselves since July, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The most recent was Wednesday at various spots along St. Catherines Island, 20 miles south of Savannah, and involved 26 short-fin pilot whales, officials said. Fifteen died, officials said.

It’s possible some of the 26 were whales that came back after surviving a previous attempt at stranding along Georgia, state biologists said.

“Why the whales beached themselves isn’t known,” wildlife officials said in a release. “Necropsies, or animal autopsies, are being done to assess what the animals’ health condition had been and to search for possible clues to the stranding.”

State biologists do not believe the stranding Wednesday was “related to the capsized freighter in St. Simons Sound,” which is 30 miles away, a release said.

The previous whale standing, on July 16, involved “at least 47 pilot whales” at St. Simons Island, about 35 miles south of St. Catherines Island, officials said. Three whales died, officials said.

“No cause for that mass stranding has been determined, and it’s not known yet if any survivors were part of the St. Catherines mass stranding,” a state release said.

Short-finned pilot whales grow to 3 tons and travel “in pods sometimes numbering in the hundreds,” a release said. They live up to 70 years and are “the most common species to mass-strand in the southeastern U.S.,” officials said.

It could take months to get autopsy results, officials said.

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