Sperm whale dies after beaching itself in Venice

Wildlife officials say they’re working to determine what caused the 44-foot-long whale to become stranded.

VENICE, Fla. — Officials are working to move a beached sperm whale that washed up along the shore in Venice.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) confirmed Monday that the whale had died and that crews are working to pull the 44-foot-long whale onto the shore so that a necropsy can be performed to determine its cause of death.

The necropsy will also give researchers insight into why the sperm whale may have beached itself, according to a spokesperson from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Samples from the whale may need to be sent to a lab for deeper analysis if the reason the whale died is not immediately obvious, according to officials. That process could take all day.

Researchers said the necropsy will also help them learn about sperm whales and the phenomenon of beachings.

Laura Engleby, Chief of NOAA’s Southeast Marine Mammal Branch, said the whale is estimated to be around 70,000 pounds and most likely an adult, given its size and length. Engleby also said the sperm whale was noticeably thin and underweight.

“It’s a rare event,” she said. “Obviously, this whale wasn’t feeling very well and wasn’t doing very well to be this close to shore and in this kind of condition.”

The last time a sperm whale was found beached along the Gulf of Mexico’s shore was in 2008 near Corpus Christi, Texas.

Sperm whales typically live in the deep ocean where they can hunt for food like squid, sharks and other fish, according to NOAA.

During an 11 a.m. press conference Monday, Engleby said heavy equipment was on the way to help get the 35-ton whale onto the shore as the tide was rising. Once the necropsy is complete, crews plan to tow the whale out into the Gulf at high tide where its body will be released, she said.

The whale was first spotted Sunday morning and was alive at that point, seen thrashing around in the water throughout the day. FWC said conditions out on the water were too dangerous to reach the whale at that time. Law enforcement officials monitored the whale overnight.

Officials from FWC, NOAA, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the University of Florida, Mote Marine Aquarium and Venice police were on the scene Monday morning.

“It is literally a village of researchers from all of these great organizations,” Engleby said. “We all come together whenever there’s a really big event like this, and these are some of the best people to do the work.”

A crowd gathered behind the blocked-off area of the beach in Venice on Monday morning.

The laboratory received a call at 8:30 a.m. Sunday that said that the whale was lying on a sandbar 150 yards off the coast. 

“It’s just sad that he had to suffer this long,” said Wanda Hartman, visiting from Ohio.

On Sunday, the whale was located at a sandbar about 50 yards away from Service Club Park, according to a Facebook post.

“Please be patient and understand that we are trying to get everything ready; so as soon as we can mobilize, we will,” Mote Program Manager Gretchen Lovewell said.

Law enforcement urges people to avoid the area to allow officials to conduct their assessments on the whale and move it.

“I hope they can study and figure out what did this to him,” Hartman said. “I hope it’s not plastic. I know there’s a lot of restaurants that have had plastic straws and I’d really like to see everybody go to paper and do something about the plastic issue for the sea animals.”

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