Published: Jan 19, 2014 10:26 PM EST
Updated: Jan 20, 2014 1:44 AM EST

NAPLES, Fla. - Two dozen pilot whales stranded dangerously close to the shore at Gordon Pass in Collier County. Wildlife officials are working into the night, monitoring their progress as they make their way to deeper water.

At last check, all the whales, nearly two dozen total, are free-swimming and are about a quarter mile west of the pass on their way towards the gulf. Experts tell Wink News the whales are moving very slowly and are certainly not out of harms way. 

Thrashing and panicked, 23 pilot whales moved dangerously close to a sandbar after several members of the pod beached themselves Sunday.

They came into the pass into Naples Bay and three beached themselves and were unable to continue to swim. If one is sick or injured they will continue to stay with it even if it goes into a dangerous situation in the shallows like this one did," said Denise Boyd with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

The mammals swam right up to boats in Gordon Pass. Sea Tow Naples sent Wink News video as they floated in the middle of it all. Experts spent hours coaxing the whales to deeper water and tagging them for future tracking purposes. 

"Used an orange grease pencil to count them and to mark them in case they come back in," Boyd said. 

But the question remains, are these the same whales that stranded themselves near Everglades National Park in December. 

More than 50 of them got stuck in shallow water in the remote location. Seven died and four were euthanized before the rest apparently swam back into deeper water. 

"That's a good question. We took pictures of their dorsal fins and will compare them to other on file when we get back," she stated. 

For now progress is slow and experts they are monitoring the pod closely, hoping they stay far from land. 

"They are at the surface. They are not doing a lot of diving behaviors currently so the good thing is that they are off shore," Boyd said.  

Wildlife officials will be back at the pass at first light Monday morning and will also check their progress from the air. If you see a stranded whale, officials ask that you leave it alone and call FWC. Do not try to push it away from shore. ?@ ?@