Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 02:37 GMT 03:37 UK
Stranded whales helped to safety
Nine of the mammals died,
but 46 were re-floated at high tide.
Marine experts and hundreds of volunteers in the eastern United States have managed to save most of a group of 55 pilot whales which became stranded on a beach at low tide
Holidaymakers at Cape Cod, off the coast of Massachusetts, joined the rescue effort, covering the whales with towels and pouring buckets of water over them to prevent them from overheating.
However, biologists believe that some of the whales may be disoriented and could swim back into shallow waters.
Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the local office of the US National Marine Fisheries Service, said: "The problem is that after beaching they don't have a very high survival rate.
"They remain disoriented and often stay in the shallow water where they eventually drown or die of exposure."
Scores of holidaymakers watched - and others joined in and helped - after the whales were discovered at low tide in shallow water near the beach at around 0600 local time (1000 GMT).
"We came to the beach expecting a nice relaxing day," said Rob Barresi of Natick, Massachusetts, who pitched in to help the stranded mammals, along with his brother Michael.
"To see this many whales get off free after six hours is amazing," said Judy Scarafile, a member of the Cape Cod Stranding Network. "We all have our fingers crossed that they'll not come back."
Scientists are not sure why whales beach themselves.
This type of whale often ends up stranded on New England beaches, and is known to frequent coastal areas looking for crustaceans and squid to eat.
In July 2000, 10 of pilot whales were found stranded off nearby Nantucket Island. All died, despite attempts to get them back out to deeper waters.