It started, as so many emergencies do, with a 911 call.
A worried beachgoer reported seeing whales splashing in the shallows of the Gulf of Mexico on Redington Beach and spouting through their blowholes.
Five pilot whales stranded themselves and needed help immediately.
Why do Pilot whales beach themselves?
Video by: DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD & ANGELIQUE HERRING Video editing by: TRACEE STOCKWELL, Tampa Bay Times
A small army of volunteers swung into action alongside marine biologists and veterinarians.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coast Guard officers and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were all involved.
Once experts determined the whales were healthy enough to move, the humans teamed up, hefting each one in a canvas sling, more than a dozen people per whale.
Video by: DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD Video editing by: TRACEE STOCKWELL, Tampa Bay Times
The three larger whales were taken to deeper, safer waters by boat. The effort lasted 10 hours.
Video by: Clearwater Marine Aquarium
The two younger males, simply called A and B, were driven to a Clearwater Marine Aquarium facility in Tarpon Springs for treatment.
Watch two of the five be released into the Gulf of Mexico.
Video by: Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Audio by: DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD Video editing by: TRACEE STOCKWELL, Tampa Bay Times
By late last week, A and B were well enough to be released, taken 20 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico. And by that time, the three older whales had already swum nearly 70 miles southwest. Radio tags will monitor their movements for several weeks.
Whale beachings are rare, and usually don’t end well. This one apparently has. “Collaboration really works,” Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates told reporters at a news conference. “The community really got involved in this. One group can’t do this the right way by themselves.”