ST. CATHERINES ISLAND, Ga. (CNN) – About 26 whales beached this week in Georgia — and 16 of them died — in the second mass stranding this year in the state, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said.
The short-finned pilot whales were stranded Wednesday on or near St. Catherines Island south of Savannah, the department said in a news release.
It’s unknown why whales beach themselves. This species is the most common to mass-strand in the southeastern US, the DNR said.
Necropsies (animal autopsies) are being performed on the carcasses to try to determine why the whales ended up on the beach.
Whales are highly social and travel in pods.
“They are highly cohesive animals, and when one is sick or ill, others may stay close by, even if it means coming to shore and becoming sick, debilitated or stranded themselves,” the state DNR says.
Other possibilities for strandings include biotoxins, underwater noise, tides and extreme weather, DNR says.
This week’s stranding is “clearly not related to” a capsized freighter in St. Simons Sound, more than 30 miles away, DNR senior wildlife biologist Clay George said.
In July, dozens of beachgoers stepped in to help at least 47 pilot whales beached on south Georgia’s St. Simons Island. No cause for that mass stranding was determined, DNR said, and it’s unknown if any of the same whales were at St. Catherines this week.
St. Catherines is privately owned and not open to the public.
Short-finned pilot whales can weigh more than 3 tons and reach 24 feet in length.