Image: Beached whale
Joe Cavaretta  /  South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Rescuers try to save a beaked whale Monday in Hollywood, Fla. The adult female whale later died, and her calf was then euthanized.
updated 8/10/2009 5:41:58 PM ET 2009-08-10T21:41:58

Rescuers failed in a frantic bid to save a mother whale and her baby after the pair ran aground off a South Florida beach Monday as hundreds looked on, some in tears. Neither animal survived despite efforts to keep them alive with moist towels and umbrellas to protect their drying skin from the scorching sun.

A team of marine mammal specialists hoped desperate efforts would save the troubled whales after they became trapped in shallow waters at Hollywood beach, just north of Miami. The mother died and the calf had to be euthanized, authorities said.

Swimmers spotted the whales around 1 p.m. in waist-deep water and sought to encourage them to head back toward deeper water. The whales briefly swam away, then returned and tried to head back toward the beach.

The mother — which experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identified as a beaked whale — was about 10 to 12 feet long. The baby was about half her size.

Rescuers placed towels on the whales to prevent their skin from drying, said Eileen Vulpis of Coral Springs, who watched the rescue attempt. Volunteers held umbrellas over the whales in hopes of further shielding them from the sun.

Calf euthanized
The mother whale died, and the calf was brought next to her and later euthanized by a NOAA marine mammal specialist as a crowd looked on.

Interactive: Swimming with whales "I have tears in my eyes," said Vulpis. "Everyone here is upset, everyone really thought they were going to try to save the baby."

Blair Mase, a stranding coordinator for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, said beaked whales normally do not survive in captivity, and that the calf would have been unable to survive without its mother.

Experts will perform necropsies on both whales, Mase said.

Mase said whales can beach themselves for a variety of reasons, including climate conditions, disorientation after hearing a loud noise, sickness and parasites.

There are normally one or two so-called "beaching events" of beaked whales a year in South Florida, according to NOAA experts. But they noted it's still a traumatic event for beachgoers to witness.

"Whales tear at our heartstrings," said Mase.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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