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8 pilot whales found dead off Florida coast after strandings; 6 unaccounted for

A park ranger watches over a dead pilot whale that stranded itself with several others in News Pass south of Lover's Key on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, in Lee County, Fla. Two pilot whales died and a third would be euthanized after roughly four dozen whales swam into shallow waters off southwest Florida on Monday, wildlife officials said. (AP Photo/The News-Press, Andrew West) MAGS OUT; NAPLES OUT; NO SALES

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A park ranger watches over a dead pilot whale that stranded itself with several others in News Pass south of Lover's Key on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, in Lee County, Fla. Two pilot whales died and a third would be euthanized after roughly four dozen whales swam into shallow waters off southwest Florida on Monday, wildlife officials said. (AP Photo/The News-Press, Andrew West) MAGS OUT; NAPLES OUT; NO SALES

MIAMI - Eight pilot whales have died in shallow waters off Florida's southwest coast, and six others remain unaccounted for, authorities said Tuesday.

The Coast Guard temporarily closed the area to traffic in the area and ordered boaters to reduce speeds off the shores near Fort Myers as they searched for the other whales. Of the eight deceased whales, veterinarians euthanized four of them.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service co-ordinator Blair Mase said necropsies will be performed on the dead whales, four of which died Monday, including two that were euthanized.

In December, more than 50 pilot whales stranded in Everglades National Park. Several died.

Farther south, officials had been monitoring another two dozen pilot whales off the coast of Collier County, but Mase said those whales were last seen about two miles offshore Monday. She said the local sheriff's aerial team would monitor their path.

Pilot whales live in deep water and usually make their home at least 20 miles (32 kilometres) off the coast of Florida, so when they swim inland, that's often a sign they are suffering from some kind of toxicity or disease, Mase said. These whales tend to travel in pods of a couple dozen or more and follow one or two leaders, or navigators.

"They have a very tightknit social structure, which helps them survive normally, but if two swim in to shore, the others will follow," she said.

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