EDISTO BEACH, S.C. (WCSC) - A group of whales stranded themselves Saturday morning on Edisto Beach, attracting a large law enforcement presence and curious onlookers.
The four whales appear to be pilot whales, according to marine biologist Peyton Sasnett, a teacher at Porter Gaud, who went to the scene Saturday morning. The whales were found early Saturday morning, she said.
Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network Director Lauren Rust said the whales were discovered on the beach at approximately 7 a.m. Saturday, but it was not clear how long they had been on the beach. One of the whales died and three were euthanized, she said.
“Pilot whales are normally found at least 100 miles or more offshore,” Rust said. “So when you see them come this close to shore, it’s definitely alarming.”
In such situations, the whales are typically not pushed back into the water when they come so far to strand themselves.
“Nine times out of 10, they will restrand themselves,” Rust said. “So you’re prolonging the whale’s suffering, you’re prolonging the inevitable and you’re putting it out there for a predator.”
It is not clear what caused the whales to strand or “beach” themselves because there were no obvious signs of physical illness, Rust said. But the group will perform necropsies on the whales.
But it is not uncommon for whales to strand in groups when one or more of them is injured or becomes ill.
Sasnett estimated the whales are between 10 and 15 feet long.
Rust said two of the whales were smaller and it is possible it was two mother whales and their calves, who will usually strand if their mothers do.
“The young whales can’t survive without their mom,” Rust said.
Police on the beach were warning visitors not to touch or disturb the whales, Sasnett said.
The results of the necropsy, similar to an autopsy for humans, won’t be complete for up to a few weeks, Rust said. The tests will determine whether they suffered internal injuries, a viral infection or fell ill because of human-related factors like consuming plastic in the ocean.