Short-finned pilot whales in the Everglades

Pilot WhalesIf you see short-finned pilot whales in the Everglades, your first thought is probably how majestic and beautiful they look. But your second realization should be how much danger they might be in. A couple of years ago, dozens of pilot whales died in the Everglades.

When pilot whales end up in shallow waters like Florida Bay of the Everglades, they’re stranded. Literally. “Stranding” occurs when a whale or pod of whales ventures into dangerously low water levels and ends up on the shore. This is also called beaching, where the marine mammals are incapable of returning to deeper water. Unless saved by humans, they die of dehydration or drown due to water entering their blowholes during high tide.

Because whales are incredibly social animals, pods typically wind up stranded together. If one whale encounters danger, other whales will come to their aid and refuse to leave them, thus resulting in mass deaths. Even if a pilot whale isn’t necessarily “beached,” it’s still at risk of death when in shallow water. Shallow water causes their bodies to collapse or it can even cause drowning. If you see a pilot whale in the Everglades, contact someone to confirm whether the whale and its pod is in danger.

It isn’t widely known exactly why pilot whales and other cetaceans strand themselves. Some scientists and researchers attribute this to human-related activities like military sonar or pollution (think oil spills) while others believe stranding occurs due to red tides, waterborne diseases or trauma. Regardless of the reason, pilot whale strandings are a common occurrence. While pilot whales are not currently endangered, strandings should be monitored closely to ensure pilot whale populations aren’t depleting.

Spotting short-finned pilot whales

Did you know there’s more than one kind of pilot whale? You’ll only find short-finned pilot whales in South Florida as they’re attracted to temperate, tropical waters. Their relative, the long-finned pilot whale, frequents cool waters. Mannerisms and intelligence levels of short-finned pilot whales are very similar to that of bottlenose dolphins. Females range in size from 12 to 18 feet while males can grow up to 24 feet. Spotting a short-finned pilot whale isn’t as easy as identifying a dolphin as pilot whales rarely breach. Look out for heads poking out of the water or flukes slapping the water’s surface.

See all the animals of the Everglades

The best way to experience all of the Everglades exquisite flora and fauna is by airboat. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours guarantee a thrilling ride, exposing you to all the natural wonders found in the Everglades. To schedule an airboat tour, click here or call 239-695-3377.