When Georgia Natural Resources workers arrived at a beach on St. Simons Island, they thought the group of people in the water was putting on some sort of dolphin show for beachgoers. "As we got closer, we couldn't believe what we saw," a spokesman said, per CNN. The crowd was working to push beached whales back out to sea. At least a dozen short-finned pilot whales had beached themselves Tuesday, per Vice. A larger group of whales was alarmingly close to shore; the pod included at least 20 whales. The improvised team tried to get the whales turned to face offshore so they might head out, said a research ecologist who helped with the rescue. The whales weigh more than 1,000 pounds each. "The water was full of immense black fins and bodies rolling in the surf," the ecologist said. "These were huge animals."
By 7:40pm, officials said, the whales were all back in the ocean, per the Journal-Constitution. Most of the pod was saved, though officials said three whales had died by the next morning. Glynn County officials later thanked the rescuers, who included dozens of lifeguards, beachgoers, and law enforcement personnel, as well as the state DNR employees. The reason for mass strandings isn't known, though it's possible this was caused by one confused or sick whale. The pod could still be at risk of another stranding, DNR officials said. The whales are being monitored to be sure they stay at sea. For the people involved, it was a moving experience. "At one point, I went under the water, and you can just hear them singing and crying to each other, and it was vibrating in parts of my ear," a lifeguard said, per WJCL. "It was heartbreaking, and amazing." (Read more whales stories.)