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October 26, 2001

Whales Invade the Florida Keys

A pod of pilot whales make an appearance int he Florida keys.

Q: While fishing in 800 feet of water about 28 miles south of Marathon in the Florida Keys last May, we spotted what looked like something floating in the water. When we got closer, we saw eight mammals, black in color, their skin almost like velvet. They weren't porpoises and were about twice the size of porpoises. Most odd: The top fin, at the center of the back, was shaped like a circle hook, curved to the rear. We've been fishing here since 1979 and have never seen anything like these. Can you identify what they were? - Ken and Ruth Kaatz, Marathon, Florida

A: Though several small whales inhabit the area, you most likely saw a pod of short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus). The males average 18 feet in length, about twice the length of the male bottlenose dolphin (Turciops). At home in the tropics around the world, the short-finned pilot whale typically travels in groups called pods. Its back is very dark - black or deep gray - and its dorsal fin, positioned about midway along the back, is broad-based and sharply curved backward.