REDINGTON BEACH, Fla. — Rescue crews scrambled to save five whales that became stranded on a beach near St. Petersburg, Florida on Monday.
The whales were first spotted on the beach at about 6 a.m. local time. Tents were placed over the whales to try and keep them cool.
Deputies from Florida Fish and Wildlife and officials from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium were able to return three of the whales to the Gulf of Mexico, while two others were taken to a rehab facility in nearby Tarpon Springs.
Laura Engleby of National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said when offshore species like pilot whales get into shallow water, they tend to get disoriented.
"It's hard for them to find their way out," Engleby said of the distressed whales.
Engleby said the ideal situation is to get the whales as deep in the water as they can but added there are limitations.
"We're doing what we can," Engleby said.
Large crowds gathered along the beach to watch the rescue efforts.
"It's monumental," said Vinny Goncalves. "We're really hoping they pull through and make it."
Goncalves brought his family from Largo, calling the marine emergency as a great teaching opportunity.
"We decided to drive out and see if there was anything we could do to help."
The three whales that were sent back to the Gulf were released about 10 miles off the coast, back into their natural, deep-water habitat.
Experts called the massive rescue a "herculean effort" by volunteers and the community.
“This amazing community has been coming together bringing towels and water and food and being so supportive of everyone here," said Engleby.
This story was originally published by WFTS in Tampa, Florida.