Rescue operations for several pilot whales stranded on a Massachusetts beach have been halted

Five pilot whales stranded on a Massachusetts beach have been returned to the ocean, but experts say they may still be in danger.

Conservationists from the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research Team were dispatched to Sunken Meadow Beach in Eastham, Massachusetts Monday night after six live pilot whales were sighted near shore around 4:45 p.m. ET just after dark, Stacey Hedman , communications director for the research center, told ABC News.

All of the whales were briefly surveyed and two received satellite tags, Hedman said.

As of Tuesday morning, the whales were stranded on the beach and one — a calf — had died, Hedman said.

The rescue of several stranded pilot whales on a beach in Eastham, Massachusetts is underway.

International Animal Welfare Fund

Some of the animals are “very large,” with the largest estimated to weigh about 4,000 pounds, Brian Sharp, director of the research center, said in a recorded statement.

Rescue teams responded in phases Tuesday to provide supportive care until tides were more favorable, Hedman said.

Conservationists hoped that higher tides after 3:30 p.m. would help drive the whales back out to sea, and all five were released shortly after, according to IFAW.

However, four of the whales returned to shore, and at 6 p.m. rescue efforts were temporarily halted, the organization said.

“The five pilot whales swam well together in one direction, but the reality is that we are not yet successful tonight,” said Misty Niemeyer, strandings coordinator at IFAW, in a statement. “One animal is now offshore, but the others have not followed.”

PHOTO: The rescue of several stranded pilot whales on a beach in Eastham, Massachusetts is underway.

The rescue of several stranded pilot whales on a beach in Eastham, Massachusetts is underway.

International Animal Welfare Fund

The team will evaluate the next steps on Wednesday, said Niemeyer, describing the rescuers as “exhausted” after their strenuous mission on Tuesday.

“It can be quite dangerous working with large animals and it is for our health as well as for tomorrow’s continued efforts that we must end today,” she said.

Video captured on site showed crews digging up sand around the whales, some of which were covered with wet blankets to help them retain moisture. Some of the whales were also given fluids intravenously to combat the stress and shock of stranding, Sharp said.

Dolphins and small whales can actually go long hours without water if given the right supportive care and hydration, Hedman said.

While Cape Cod is considered a global hotspot for stranding of live whales, historically pilot whales have not stranded there, Hedman added.

PHOTO: The rescue of several stranded pilot whales on a beach in Eastham, Massachusetts is underway.

The rescue of several stranded pilot whales on a beach in Eastham, Massachusetts is underway.

International Animal Welfare Fund

IFAW usually transports dolphins to deeper water in a specially built rescue vehicle, but the organization says the whales are too large to transport.

“[We’re] We are now doing everything we can to give these animals the best chance at the best outcome,” Sharp said.

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