GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. - Officials from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources performed necropsies on the three pilot whales that died after a mass stranding event on St. Simons Island on July 16.
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The DNR said there were no obvious signs of human interaction, such as plastic ingestion or vessel strikes, contributing to the deaths of the whales.
Officials said all three stranded whales were adult males around 16 feet long and their gastrointestinal tracts were empty.
DNR senior wildlife biologist Clay George said the empty GI tracts could suggest that the whales weren't in good health or had been out of their normal deep-water habitat for an extended period of time.
Two species of parasites known to cause brain lesions were found in two of the whales, but those same parasites have been found in healthy animals as well.
Scientists said they won't be able to determine the cause of the mass stranding event until microscopic tests of samples of tissue are completed, which could take months.
George believes a number of the surviving whales were spotted on July 21 off the coast of Florida.
“A video taken by a charter fisherman last Sunday shows a dorsal fin that looks very similar to the dorsal fin of one of the St. Simons whales,” George said. “The video was grainy, so we can’t be 100 percent certain.”
Previous mass strandings of pilot whales occurred in 1977, when 15 whales died on Cumberland Island, and in 1962, when at least 20 whales died at the south tip of St. Simons Island, not far from the July 16 stranding.
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