An 18,000lb sperm whale died off the coast of Florida on Saturday after becoming beached. Now, experts are trying to determine whether a rope found wrapped around its jaw and coiled inside its stomach caused it to die.A sperm whale was beached off the coast of Florida on Saturday.
Responders from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce were alerted to a 26.5ft-long whale with rope around its bottom jaw floating by the shore at Herman’s Bay, TCPalm reported.
Blair Mase of the NOAA told the outlet she asked organizations from around the state to get to the area and help the whale as quickly and humanely as possible, but the whale died before veterinarians could assist. Mase described the whale as “extremely emaciated” and “very, very thin.”
FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute said in a Facebook post on Monday that its marine mammal rescue team and their collaborators carried out a necropsy to find out how the whale died and to collect samples.
Mase said the autopsy revealed the whale had rope in its throat and stomach, as well as around its mouth. It was unclear how old the whale was, the last time it had eaten, or when it swallowed the rope.
NOAA spokesperson Allison Garrett told The Miami Herald it may take months to find out the cause of death.
Veterinarian Cristina Maldonado, who collects trash from the beach and turns it into art to raise awareness of pollution, saw the whale while she was finishing a clean-up at around 10 a.m. on Saturday.
“The whale was very weak, but very much alive still,” she told Newsweek. “It was thrashing and trying to not drown. You could hear it echolocating to its family. You could see its breaths from the blowhole. You could see the rope wrapped around its lower jaw.
“The echolocation noises were heart-wrenching. It was horribly distressed. Tail thrashing, struggling with every wave.”
Maldonado said the whale had washed up further along the coast and passersby had tried to push it back into the water, although this is not recommended. According to Maldonado, if a whale is pushed out and comes back to the shore, it is assumed it will not survive.
“I felt helpless like never before. There was nothing anyone could do,” she said.
Mase said members of the public who find whales in similar situations should not go near them and instead contact wildlife officials.
She compared pushing the whale back into the water with pushing an emergency hospital patient into the streets. “This animal is there for a reason. There’s something going on.”
Maldonado believes the emaciated condition of the whale indicates it starved to death, likely due to the rope around its lower jaw preventing it from hunting.
“With a belly full of rope, there is no room for any food even if it could hunt,” she said, adding the fishing industry should be held accountable for such deaths.