PICTURES

Rescuers to suspend search for stranded whales

In this image released by the US Coast Guard, a pod of pilot whales swims off the coast of Everglades National Park in Florida on Dec 5, 2013. Rescuers involved in the search for 40 pilot whales still stranded in Florida will suspend their operations
In this image released by the US Coast Guard, a pod of pilot whales swims off the coast of Everglades National Park in Florida on Dec 5, 2013. Rescuers involved in the search for 40 pilot whales still stranded in Florida will suspend their operations on Sunday after failing to spot the animals via air and sea. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Search volunteers Donna Buckley (left) and her husband John Buckley pilot their vessel near a location where a pod of pilot whales were stranded in the Everglades National Park, on the southwestern Florida coast on Dec 5, 2013. Rescuers involved in t
Search volunteers Donna Buckley (left) and her husband John Buckley pilot their vessel near a location where a pod of pilot whales were stranded in the Everglades National Park, on the southwestern Florida coast on Dec 5, 2013. Rescuers involved in the search for 40 pilot whales still stranded in Florida will suspend their operations on Sunday after failing to spot the animals via air and sea. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
A deceased short-finned pilot whale is examined on the beach in Everglades National Park, Florida on Dec 5, 2013. Rescuers involved in the search for 40 pilot whales still stranded in Florida will suspend their operations on Sunday after failing to s
A deceased short-finned pilot whale is examined on the beach in Everglades National Park, Florida on Dec 5, 2013. Rescuers involved in the search for 40 pilot whales still stranded in Florida will suspend their operations on Sunday after failing to spot the animals via air and sea. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
Vultures and dead pilot whales that beached themselves and became stranded in Everglades National Park, are seen on the south-western Florida coast on Dec 5, 2013. Rescuers involved in the search for 40 pilot whales still stranded in Florida will sus
Vultures and dead pilot whales that beached themselves and became stranded in Everglades National Park, are seen on the south-western Florida coast on Dec 5, 2013. Rescuers involved in the search for 40 pilot whales still stranded in Florida will suspend their operations on Sunday after failing to spot the animals via air and sea. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
NOAA strandings official, Ms Liz Stratton, informs reporters the pod in deeper water could reach as many as 30 animals and that they were offshore at midday, on Thursday, Dec 5, 2013, in the Everglades National Park, Fla. Rescuers involved in the sea
NOAA strandings official, Ms Liz Stratton, informs reporters the pod in deeper water could reach as many as 30 animals and that they were offshore at midday, on Thursday, Dec 5, 2013, in the Everglades National Park, Fla. Rescuers involved in the search for 40 pilot whales still stranded in Florida will suspend their operations on Sunday after failing to spot the animals via air and sea. -- FILE PHOTO: AP
A National Park Services volunteer looks over a dead pilot whale as it lies on the beach in the Florida Everglades in this Dec 4, 2013, handout photo obtained on Dec 5. Rescuers involved in the search for 40 pilot whales still stranded in Florida wil
A National Park Services volunteer looks over a dead pilot whale as it lies on the beach in the Florida Everglades in this Dec 4, 2013, handout photo obtained on Dec 5. Rescuers involved in the search for 40 pilot whales still stranded in Florida will suspend their operations on Sunday after failing to spot the animals via air and sea. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

MIAMI (AFP) - Rescuers involved in the search for 40 pilot whales still stranded in Florida will suspend their operations on Sunday after failing to spot the animals via air and sea.

The mysterious mass stranding in a remote area off the US state of Florida's Everglades National Park was first reported on Tuesday. A total of 11 whales have died so far during the ordeal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which led the search, said on Saturday it could no longer see the whales, whose fate has been unknown since Friday.

"We are standing down operations tomorrow (Sunday)," NOAA Fisheries said on its Twitter account. "If we get reports of pilot whales, teams will mobilise ASAP."

The last report from NOAA marine mammal scientist Blair Mase on Friday suggested it was "encouraging" that 24 of the mammals had not been located.

We are "hoping they are out to sea", Ms Mase told reporters in a conference call. But she acknowledged she was "not certain" the missing group had made its way out of difficult, shallow waters to safety.

Of the 11 whales that perished, four had to be euthanised after they became unable to breathe, hydrate and feed in the shallow waters less than 0.9m deep off Highland Beach on the Gulf Coast. It was still unclear why the whales swam to the warm, shallow waters. The beaching occurred in a very isolated part of southern Florida in Monroe County, where there is no cell phone reception.