VERO BEACH, Fla., Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Wildlife experts suspect an ailing alpha whale caused a pod of short-fin pilot whales to beach themselves in Florida this weekend.
Seventeen of the 22 mammals died in the surf at Avalon Beach State Park in St. Lucie County and five juveniles were taken to a rescue facility at nearby Florida Atlantic University, but were not expected to survive.
Blair Mase, who specializes in the study of whale stranding for the U.S. government, told TCPalm.com the tragedy was probably linked to the pod leader.
"This species has a tight social structure," said Mase, a regional coordinator for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. "Typically, they stay together as a group. So if one animal is sick, they all come ashore."
Hundreds of people on the area either watched the stranding unfold. Many tried to help out by throwing wet towels on the whales to protect them from the sun, TCPalm.com said.
Mase it would not have done much good to push the whales off the sand. "If you push them into the water, they'll just keep coming back and stranding themselves again," she said.