SHELL ISLAND, Fla. (WMBB) — NOAA is investigating the death of a six-ton sperm whale that washed ashore on Shell Island Sunday.
The creature, which is on the endangered species list, is about 28 feet long and was emaciated.
“You can see the outline of the skull,” said Blair Mase, a mammal stranding coordinator with NOAA.
A team of experts, including groups from Gulf World, Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the University of Florida are taking samples and performing a necropsy on the whale. This will help them determine if it was struck down by a disease, injured by human activity, or was killed by some other cause.
Bill Holmes and his family encountered the whale while they were at Shell Island. Holmes provided News 13 with photos and videos of the incident.
“You just hope that if they investigate it they find out it wasn’t done, (that) the whale didn’t die as a result of human intervention in this world,” he said. “That it was kind of the circle of life. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
A sperm whale stranding is an extremely rare event, Mase said. It has only happened 15 times in the entire Gulf Coast over the past 10 years.
She went on to praise the visitors who spotted the whale and called the NOAA-stranding hotline for help. While it can be tempting to push a dolphin or other mammal trying to strand itself back into the water, that can do more harm than good, officials said. The animal will still be in distress and the good Samaritans have delayed it from getting the help it needs.
The hotline to get help for injured, entangled or dead marine mammals is (866) 755-6622.
NOAA officials said the sperm whale will be towed off shore on Tuesday for disposal.