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Whales swim out to deep water as workers try to end strandings

A group of stranded pilot whales was guided by a boat to deeper waters off the coast near Everglades National Park.

joe skipper/reuters

A group of stranded pilot whales was guided by a boat to deeper waters off the coast near Everglades National Park.

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla. — Pods of 35 pilot whales slowly swam Thursday into deeper water off Florida’s southwest coast, raising optimism that the strandings of whales on Everglades National Park beaches may soon end on a positive note.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries official Blair Mase said Thursday that the three whale pods were nine miles north of their original location and continuing to move offshore. They were in 18 feet of water about six miles offshore, still several miles from the depths they usually call home, Mase said.

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‘‘They are in deeper water, and they are getting closer to their normal home range,’’ Mase said. ‘‘Even though we are hopeful, this situation could go either way.’’

Mase said the total of dead whales has reached 11, with five still unaccounted for. She said wildlife workers were surprised Thursday morning to discover that most of the live whales had moved out of the shallows on their own sometime during the night. By early evening Thursday, most crews had left the scene, but a Coast Guard cutter was to remain stationed with the whales overnight Thursday.

About 15 vessels carrying about 35 personnel were involved in the effort to track the whales, which were first spotted Tuesday in extremely shallow water in the Everglades park south of Naples.

Wildlife workers had planned to try using noises such as banging on pipes and revving boat engines to herd the whales out to the open ocean. But that turned out to be unnecessary, and the workers simply used positioning of the boats to prevent any of the whales from turning away from the open sea, Mase said.

Teams from NOAA, the National Park Service, the Coast Guard and state wildlife agencies were working to prevent any more strandings.

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