FORT PIERCE, Fla. -- Five rescued baby pilot whales swim around the rehabilitation pool at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.
Meanwhile, 17 deceased, mature whales were transported to labs across the state for necropsies, also known as animal autopsies.
"Taking samples and trying to learn more about the species and trying to figure out why they possibly stranded," said Blair Mase, with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.
Mase happened to be surfing Saturday morning at Avalon State Park, just a couple hundred yards from where the whales became stranded.
She responded immediately, helping the whales along with hundreds of volunteers until 10 p.m. Saturday.
"Being on the beach for several hours, succumbing to the heat, it's going to take a toll on the whale, so obviously, they've been through a lot and we can only hope for the best," said Mase.
Sea mammal experts are now monitoring the survivors around the clock at the Harbor Branch rehab pool.
"While we're analyzing the clinical samples and making determinations, we're guardedly optimistic. We're encouraged by the transition they've made from the beach," said Steve McCulloch, who founded and runs the Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program.
Veterinarians are also treating the whales for what might be considered respiratory infections.
"Given what they've been through, they're doing remarkably well," said Sea World senior veterinarian Michelle Davis.
Vets and scientists are analyzing blood, fecal samples and even the sounds the whales are making.
"The goal is healthy animals that can live for a long time after this," said Davis.
It's not known when, where or even if the whales will eventually be released. Several agencies will make those decisions within the next few months.
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