Rescue crews tried to help a pod of 20 to 30 pilot whales stranded in shallow waters in a remote area of Everglades National Park on Wednesday, officials said.
The goal is to keep the whales alive during low tide, and then when high tide comes in, crews will try to get them back into the sea, Linda Friar, Everglades National Park spokeswoman said.
Four boats and a crew of 15 headed to the remote spot to help the whales, which are slightly larger than dolphins, Friar said.
The whales, who scientists say appeared confused, were originally spotted around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday near Highland Beach, according to Friar.
Friar said rangers and workers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration responded and found 10 beached whales and the others in shallow waters nearby.
Four of the whales died but the workers were able to get six back into the water, Friar said. Workers left for the night but returned Wednesday to try to assist the remaining whales.
The shallow water was making it difficult to get the whales back out to sea, she said.
"It's so shallow at low tide for such a long distance it makes it more difficult to get the whales to an area where they can swim away," Friar said.
It's not unusual for the whales to end up in the shallow waters, which stretch for hundreds of yards, Friar said.
"The thing about these whales, as the day heats up they'll have to keep them wet," she said.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is assisting the rangers and NOAA in the rescue effort.
"The agencies are coming together to do what they can," Friar said.
NOAA Marine Mammal Scientist Blair Mase said people need to be "realistic about the options for these animals.
"Euthanasia might be the most humane option. The animals could be compromised," Mase said.
The Gulf of Mexico has a very strong pilot whale population and this pod is very far from where they normally would be. They are very far from their deep water habitat and this makes it difficult for rescuers to "push" them back out to sea, Mase said.
"If we did push the healthy ones out, if they see one dead one they will come back again," Mase said.
Friar said researchers would perform necropsies on the dead whales to try to determine what brought them there.
The last mass stranding happened in 1995, Mase said. Pilot whales are susceptible to strandings because they are tight knit.