Endangered sperm whale beached off Florida coast dies despite rescue attempts, officials say

BySarah Dewberry, Amanda Jackson, Susannah Cullinane and Amy Simonson
Monday, March 11, 2024
A sperm whale beached off Florida coast dies despite rescue attempts
Police and wildlife officials began trying to free the stranded whale in Venice, Florida, but the attempts were unsuccessful due to unsafe water conditions.

VENICE, Fla. -- A sperm whale beached off the coast of Venice, Florida, has died following attempts to save it, officials said Monday.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials are planning to perform a necropsy Monday on the nearly 70,000-pound, 44-foot-long male whale.

A multiagency team - including NOAA, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Mote Marine Lab - is awaiting heavy equipment to help pull the whale onto the beach for the necropsy, NOAA's Southeast Regional Office Marine Mammal Branch Chief Laura Engleby said in a news conference Monday.

Service Club Park in Venice, where multiple agencies responded to the stranded whale, remains closed, according to police.

The city issued a no-swim advisory for areas south of Venice Beach on Monday.

Engleby said the beached whale was very thin and was relatively close to shore, indicating he wasn't healthy. The team will investigate what contributed to his death.

Experts will take measurements and photographs of the whale and perform an internal examination before tissue and organ samples are sent to labs for analysis, Engleby said.

She added some information from the necropsy could be available right away, but other results could take months.

Because of size of the massive creature, testing could take all day, Engleby said.

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The sperm whale had been beached since Saturday morning on a sandbar about 50 yards from the park, officials said.

Sperm whales, which can be found in all major oceans, are now protected as an endangered species after years of population decline due to harvesting by humans.

As the largest toothed whale species, female sperm whales can grow up to 36 feet long and males can grow up to 52 feet long, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

An event like this is rare, as officials see an average of about two sperm whales stranded per year in the southeastern US, which includes the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Engleby said.

She added the last time a sperm whale was breached in the Gulf of Mexico was 2008.

Sperm whales are year-round residents in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, she said.

"But they live way far out in pretty deep water. They like to dive to depths of thousands of feet to get their food, mostly squid, and so we don't typically see them," Engleby said.

In an update on Sunday afternoon, police said crews had been trying to administer a sedative to the distressed animal, but were unable to reach it because of dangerous water conditions.

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