GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The health of two unusual whales found stranded in waters near Waveland this week is improving, but they are not what experts first thought. According to new information from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the creatures are pygmy killer whales, not melon-headed whales.
"After counting their teeth and studying other anatomical traits, they (NMFS experts) are 95 percent sure they are pygmy killer whales," said Moby Solangi, the Director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.
Solangi said the animals are doing better and recovering from their injuries. Both are swimming better two days after they were rescued.
The next concern is to check their hearing. Like many sea creatures, the whales' hearing ability is key to communication and foraging for food. Tests are being done to determine if their hearing was damaged.
Pygmy killer whales are small members of the dolphin family and are usually found in tropical and subtropical deep waters including the Northern Gulf of Mexico. How they ended up in the shallow marsh in Waveland remains unclear.
According to NMFS, there are three recognized stocks of pygmy killer whales in the U.S., but their numbers are small. Tracking found just 817 in waters around Hawaii and 410 in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. The number in the Western Atlantic is unknown.
The NMFS website says these whales "are very aggressive when kept in captivity." The species is protected but there are no know conservation efforts, according the NMFS.