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    Stranded pilot whales improving

    ©Associated Press
    April 23, 2003

    BIG PINE KEY -- Seven pilot whales that survived being stranded last week in the Florida Keys swam under their own power Tuesday as their conditions slowly improved, rescue officials said.

    Conditions of the six adults and one calf have been upgraded from "extremely guarded" to "guarded," said Denise Jackson of the Florida Keys Marine Mammal Rescue Team.

    "I wouldn't say everything is hunky-dory, but it's encouraging after five days to have all of them up and swimming," Jackson said.

    She said the whales were being fed a mixture of water and Pedialyte -- the drink given to dehydrated human babies -- plus a fourth of a pound of squid, Jackson said. They were swimming in a temporary holding facility set up by volunteers who have worked around the clock to care for the animals.

    The seven whales were among 28 that stranded themselves Friday in shallow waters near Big Pine Key in the lower Florida Keys. Seven died, five were euthanized, six were seen swimming in the Gulf of Mexico and three were unaccounted for Tuesday, Jackson said.

    Blood tests have shown that they are suffering from anemia, dehydration, viral infections and possible kidney and liver problems.

    Volunteers on Tuesday kept the surviving whales shaded from the sun as they followed them around with umbrellas in the confined holding facility, Jackson said.

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