Beached sperm whale near John's Pass euthanized - WFLA News Channel 8

Beached sperm whale near John's Pass euthanized

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MADEIRA BEACH, FL (WFLA) -

A 30-35 foot sperm whale will be examined by veterinarians and marine biologists Friday. It washed up off John's Pass, officials with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials confirmed. They said they received the report about it at 7 o'clock Thursday morning.

Marine mammal expert Erin Fougeres, with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries, said this species of whale is known to beach itself when sick or injured. In this case, from visual evaluations, the whale does look emaciated.

"This is not a normal situation to see this animal close to shore," she said. "This is an animal that is completely out of habitat, and there's obviously something very wrong with it."

A large crowd gathered on the beach near 130th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard to get a glimpse of the massive mammal. Many took pictures to document the event.

"It's a very emotional feeling you get because you know the animal is distressed," said Lisa Rossier, who lives in Indian Rocks Beach. She heard about the whale and felt the need to come and see it for herself.

"It's a learning experience to have the opportunity to actually experience nature and an animal you wouldn't normally have the opportunity to experience," she said.

Veterinarian Dr. Mike Walsh from the University of Florida is overseeing the euthanasia effort.

"Our current approach is to wait for the tide to go down, so we can approach the animal," he said early in the afternoon. "The animal will be given a heavy sedative so it doesn't know anything is going on and doesn't feel any pain."

The whale is probably not a full grown adult. They can tell it is malnourished because its skull and ribs are visible. These whales would typically be far off shore out in the gulf. They typically eat squid and would not be in these shallow waters to feed.

Fougeres said they had to wait for a stronger sedative to arrive from the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Once it did, a team of three people entered the water and injected the sedative. It took effect in 20 minutes and the whale was injected with potassium chloride to stop its heart. It is fast acting.

Dr. Walsh said it will now undergo an extensive necropsy to determine a cause of death.

"It could be an infectious cause. It could be a trauma. Or one of the biggest things that also effects them are bio toxins," he said.

Many watching from shore wondered why more wasn't done to save the whale's life.

But officials said there isn't a rehabilitation facility large enough for the whale, and no good way to transport it. Sperm whales spend their lives in deep water, so they never feel gravity. Taking it out of the water allows gravity and the weight of its own body to start crushing its organs.

A Sea Tow boat pulled the deceased whale off shore just before 5 o'clock. It will be tied up in the gulf over night, before being towed to Fort De Soto Park for the necropsy on Friday morning.

FWC said the last time they had a beached sperm whale in this area was 2007.Stay with WFLA.com for more on this developing story.

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