ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – Beachgoers put aside their sunscreen and boogie boards Tuesday to help a mass of whales that washed ashore on St. Simons Island.
It’s unclear at this time exactly why well more than a dozen pilot whales beached on the island, but Glynn County Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency called it “an unusual occurrence.”
The agency said Tuesday evening that all of the whales made it off of the beach and back in the ocean thanks to volunteers and first responders.
“Events like these can really show the level of care and support from our community,” Glynn County officials stated. “Thank you to everyone that helped those that couldn’t help themselves today.”
Shelby Hardin shared photos and videos of the whales, along with beachgoers pushing them back out in the water.
“Today was awful. It’s amazing how many locals and tourists came together to help push them back into the water,” she posted on Facebook.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said late Tuesday evening that while a majority of the whales were successfully pushed back out to sea, three of them died. They will be taken for a necropsy.
The Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network, a nonprofit serving South Carolina, shared one reason why the pod may have stranded:
“It’s never by accident. Often, with pilot whales, they follow a leader, possibly a sick leader, who got pushed ashore and the others followed. If they can remove the sick leader, then they can usually survive. If they stranded because they are sick, then they are weak, and will likely re-strand.”
The Georgia DNR says that among cetaceans, “pilot whales are the most common species known to strand in mass numbers.”
“While stranding is a known natural occurrence, the only thing we can do is to continue pushing them out to sea,” Georgia DNR Wildlife Biologist Clay George added.
The agency said DNR Wildlife Resources Division, DNR Coastal Resources Division, Georgia Sea Turtle Center, NOAA, Glynn County Emergency Management and others participated in efforts to get the animals back out in open waters.
“The remaining whales were last seen swimming in the sound, and it is hoped they will continue to keep moving out to sea,” Georgia DNR stated.