Nightly News   |  December 04, 2013

Massive mission to rescue pilot whales

In the backcountry of Everglades National Park, scientists and park officials are tending to a pack of whales trapped and dehydrated in shallow water. NBC’s Mark Potter reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we mentioned at the top of the broadcast there is a rescue mission under way off the coast of florida to rescue dozens of stranded pilot whales . mark potter has a late report tonight for us from everglades national park .

>> reporter: our journey to find the stranded whales began in everglades national park where we sped through creeks and bays to get to the gulf of mexico . in an area known as highland beach we came upon people tending to pilot whales close to shore. they were discovered tuesday afternoon. scientists from noaa arrived this morning the to find 51 whales, six already dead , four others so stressed and dehydrated they had to be euthanized.

>> some of the animals might stay with their ill podmates rather than swim into deeper water .

>> reporter: all day long veterinarians in boats have been surrounding the whales, trying to corral them and keep them from swimming even closer to shore. now the scientists are taking advantage of the high tide on this sand bar to try to move the whales into deeper water before the tide turns and the whales are once again stranded. but a big problem, officials say, is that the whales now face a virtual obstacle course of sand bars stretching 20 miles toward the much deeper water where they are normally found. in recent years there have been other whale strandings in florida including this one two years ago near key west . 23 whales were stranded then. most died. while rescuers say the prognosis for the whales now is not good because they are too dehydrated and weak to be saved they hope at least some can eventually be guided back to open water . now that night has fallen the rescue workers have come back to the dock for safety reasons. we are told they will go back out tomorrow morning . brian?

>> mark potter in the florida everglades for us tonight. mark, thanks.