More than two dozen pod whales that were helped back into deep water by beachgoers after stranding themselves on St. Simon island remained offshore Wednesday, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Crowds of beachgoers of all ages descended on about 30 whales in shallow water Tuesday, pushing and shoving them back to sea in an impromptu operation captured live on social media.
Three of the whales, which can weigh 800 to 1,000 pounds, died, but the rest made it safely back to sea Tuesday evening, according to Glenn County Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
DNR whale biologist Clay George indicated that the dead whales were euthanized after becoming incapacitated. The DNR planned necropsies on the animals.
“While stranding is a known natural occurrence, the only thing we can do is to continue pushing them out to sea,” George said.
Harbor pilots had spotted the whales in a nearby shipping channel Wednesday morning.
DNR spokesman Rick Lavender said conservationists from the National Marine Mammal Foundation followed the whales in a boat to make sure they were safe and stayed offshore. A helicopter searched for more stranded whales by air and found none.
The initial operation to save the whales was captured on a 15-minute video taken by local resident Dixie McCoy and posted on Facebook around 6 p.m. on Tuesday. It shows vacationers, families and kids pushing or dragging them into the water.
"It is so sad," McCoy says at one point. "They are going to die if they don't get help."
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But one by one, the beachgoers – kids and parents alike – splashed water on the struggling animals, some of whom were crying out, and then tried to roll, push or drag the creatures into deeper water.
Also joining the rescue effort were responders from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Sea Turtle Center and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Help can be summoned quickly on the island by calling 1-877-WHALE-HELP.
George said the whales were likely confused, as they normally stay more than 100 miles offshore. The American Cetacean Society says pilot whales are often involved in mass strandings partly because of their social nature.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Georgia: Pilot whales beached on St. Simons Island, rescued