Twenty of the black marine mammals, ranging on size from small juveniles to adults weighing one ton, languished in the sun. Bystanders under the direction of biologists wrestled the animals upright to breath, covering their skins with moist towels and pouring water on them.
The animals apparently came ashore shortly before 9 a.m. One of the first on scene was Blair Mase, stranding coordinator for the southeast region on the National Marine Fisheries Service. By coincidence, Mase was surfing in the area when she noticed people running toward the whales.
Mase said in such instances, it is useless to simply push the pilot whales back to sea.
"This species has a tight social structure," Mase said. "Typically, they stay together as a group. So if one animal is sick, they all come ashore. If you push them into the water, they'll just keep coming back and stranding themselves on shore."
There were at least four calves in the stranded pod and Mase said they have the best chances of being saved.
By noon, scientists from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were busy triaging the whales to determine which could be saved and which may have to be euthanized.
YouReporters contributed photos to this story.