First responders and volunteers flocked to the shore when at least 20 pilot whales beached themselves on St. Simons Island’s East Beach Tuesday evening, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Glynn County EMA and Homeland Security officials reported all whales were back in the ocean as of 7:40 p.m. Tuesday.
A Facebook Live video of the mass stranding made the rounds online.
Glynn County officials took to Facebook to thank all who stepped up to help the pilot whales, which can weigh up to 800 to 1,000 pounds, make their way back to sea.
According to the Wildlife Resources Division from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, while some animals were successfully pushed back out, two pilot whales died and were taken in for a necropsy.
“The remaining whales were last seen swimming in the sound, and it is hoped they will continue to keep moving out to sea,” officials said.
It’s unclear what exactly led to the mass stranding, but DNR experts wrote on Facebook that “among cetaceans, pilot whales are the most common species known to strand in mass numbers.”
Last year, more than 50 beached pilot whales died on the shore of New Zealand’s Chatham Island. It was the fifth stranding in the country in less than a week.
“The reason whales and dolphins strand is not fully understood,” Phys.org reported after the increased beaching. “But theories include sickness, navigational error, geographical features, the presence of predators, and extreme weather.”
Marine mammal scientist Karen Stockin told Phys.org she suspects the unusual changes in whale behavior were driven by “warmer sea surface temperatures” that affect where the prey is moving. “The reality is I've no doubt it's been further exacerbated by the potential global warming effect,” she said.
Recent research shows oceans are heating up 40% faster on average than previously estimated.