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A summer afternoon at the beach quickly became a scramble to save a pod of disoriented pilot whales, with vacationers joining lifeguards and state wildlife crews in the water trying to keep roughly 30 of the large marine mammals from beaching themselves on the Georgia coast.
Officials were hopeful they had saved most of the short-fin pilot whales that swam perilously close to shore Tuesday on St. Simons Island, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah.
Harbor - Pilots - Group - Whales - Shipping
Harbor pilots spotted a large group of whales in the nearby shipping channel Wednesday morning, said Clay George, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. He was waiting to learn if they followed the tide back out to sea.
"You're talking about animals that should be living 100 miles (160 kilometers) offshore," George said. "So something went wrong with these animals. They shouldn't be in a situation where they can feel sand beneath them."
Pilot - Whales - Members - Family - Feet
Pilot whales are members of the dolphin family that can grow up to 20 feet (6 meters) long and weigh as much as 3 tons (2.7 metric tons). Pilot whales are often involved in mass strandings partly due to their social nature, according to the American Cetacean Society.
Three whales died on the beach in Georgia, one of which was euthanized by officials. George said necropsies were planned to determine if the whales were sick and look for other clues to why they may have come...
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