GULF OF MEXICO (WLOX) - A story we have been following for nearly a year has come to a happy ending. The two pygmy killer whales that were found stranded near Waveland in September of last year have been released back into the wild.
Monday, the whales were loaded onto the Coast Guard cutter Cypress to be transported back to their natural habitat, which is about 100 miles south of the Mississippi coast.
"We at the U.S. Coast Guard are delighted to assist in this release," said Lt. JG Summer. "Assistance to wildlife in distress is part of the mission of the Coast Guard."
Before they were released, the whales were outfitted with satellite tags to track their movements. Signals from the whales were received at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
When the whales were first spotted in a marsh by an angler on Sept. 9, 2015, they were in critical condition and the outlook for their survival looked bleak.
Rescuers took the whales to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport in an attempt to save their lives.
"Their prognosis at admission to rehab was critical and initially required extensive 24/7 medical care," said IMMS's consulting veterinarian Dr. Connie Chevis.
The team at IMMS spent months rehabilitating the whales, which was especially difficult, because scientists know so little about the species.
"Never before has this species been kept alive in the United States this long," said Dr. Mobi Solangi, Director of IMMS.
"Pygmy killer whales are an offshore oceanic species about which little is known in the Gulf of Mexico," said Dr. Keith Mullen, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Researchers at IMMS say the road to recovery for these whales was a hard one, but scientists were able to gather crucial information that could help rescuers respond to future strandings.
"Resulting information will shed light on the biology and natural history of the species in the wild," said Dr. Erin Fougeres, with NOAA.
Personnel from the Coast Guard, IMMS, NOAA and Mississippi Department of Marine Resources helped with the release.