April 20, 2024

A sperm whale who became stranded on a Florida beach over the weekend has died, state’s fish and wildlife conservation commission said in a statement Monday.

The case was an urgent one for animal preservationists because sperm whales are classified as an endangered species.

Police and wildlife officials had tried to free the male whale from a shallow sandbar off Florida’s Gulf Coast in the city of Venice – 59 miles (95km) from Tampa – since Sunday morning. But officials said they were unable to rescue the animal because of high winds and surf in Gulf of Mexico waters off Venice’s coast, and they had to euthanize the animal.

Rescuers had hoped conditions would be more favorable on Monday, allowing them to save the whale. But it became clear Sunday evening that the whale was experiencing labored breathing and suffering, officials said.

The animal died about 3am Monday.

Police said they maintained a presence near the whale throughout its final night. The animal beached on a sandbar about 50 yards (45m) from Service Club Park in Venice, Florida, the local police department said in posts on Facebook.

Authorities estimated that the whale weighed between 50,000 and 70,000lbs . Though many might be struck by that number of pounds, the whale was actually considered to be severely underweight and therefore was struggling to survive.

A branch chief with the marine mammal division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Laura Engleby, told local television news outlet WTVT that a sperm whale getting stranded on shores near the Gulf of Mexico was a “real rare event”.

“It’s really unusual,” Engleby said. “The last one I remember being at was in 2008. We get about two sperm whales stranded a year in the south-eastern US along the Gulf Coast – [which is] not as frequently.”

Agencies planned to conduct a necropsy – essentially, an animal autopsy – to determine the whale’s official cause of death.

Sperm whales have a typical lifespan of 70 years and are among the marine mammal species with the widest distributions because they are found in all deep oceans. They are usually found “from the equator to the edge of the pack ice in the Arctic and Antarctic”, according to NOAA.

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