Update: Local news outlets are now reporting the whales must be euthanized. Click here for the latest news.
A whale and her calf beached themselves at Jensen Beach and authorities have rushed to help them.
The animals have been sprayed with water among other steps, though one official described their condition as “grave.”
Conservation groups rushed to the scene after the whales were reported stranded about 4:30 p.m. Lifeguards helped with crowd control. The animals were loaded onto a marine mammal ambulance.
“At this point the prognosis is very poor,” said Steve McCulloch, founder and manager of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program.
They’ve been identified as pygmy sperm whales, an adult 8 to 10 feet and a calf about half that size.
Scientists say they are the second-most common marine mammal to beach themselves after bottlenose dolphins.
Officials have been studying why the whales beach themselves, looking at a variety of factors including diet, genetics and environmental contaminants. Whales of this type can suffer from a heart condition, McCulloch said.
If the whales do not survive, they will be examined forensically, he said.
Well-intended bystanders initially pushed them back into the ocean, but they promptly re-stranded, McCulloch said. That’s usually because they are sick or injured, and he advised members of the public to let trained authorities respond.
Last September, hundreds of Treasure Coast residents watched in Avalon Beach State Park in St. Lucie County when 22 short-fin pilot whales stranded themselves in the surf.
The whales ranged from 5-foot juveniles to 18-foot adults weighing around 1 ton. Seventeen died despite a struggle to save them, while five juveniles were taken to facilities for rehydration and rehabilitation.