JENSEN BEACH, Fla. - Researchers examined a beached pygmy sperm whale on Turtle Beach on Thursday then transported the ailing animal to Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University north of Fort Pierce where it later had to be euthanized.
Steve McCulloch, the marine mammal program manager at Harbor Branch, said earlier that it was likely the 10-foot long whale would have to be euthanized because the deep-water species has difficulty surviving in captivity.
Juli Goldstein, Harbor Branch’s staff veterinarian, planned to study the mammal. She is conducting research on why pygmy and dwarf sperm whales have such a high rate of the heart disease known as cardiomyopathy, McCulloch said.
The whale beached itself about 10 a.m. near Bob Graham Beach, but was helped back into the water by beachgoers and made its way north to Turtle Beach before beaching itself again in the rough surf, witnesses said.
Several people helped officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and workers from the institute lift the whale out of the surf on a stretcher and pour water on it while the Harbor Branch scientists were en route.
Sunbathers provided two large beach umbrellas to shade the whale and ferried buckets of water from the surf to keep it moist.
Pygmy sperm whales “typically don’t do too well once they strand themselves,” said Jan Petri, a Harbor Branch spokesman. “They are animals that live in the deep ocean. They aren’t coastal animals and, if they get up on the beach, something’s really wrong with them.”
Pygmy sperm whales average 10 feet in length and maximum weight is about 900 pounds, according to information from the American Cetacean Society. The small whales maybe found alone or in pods of three to five animals.
Strandings are common to this species, especially in the southeastern United States, the society noted, and all efforts to keep stranded animals alive in aquariums have been unsuccessful.
Earlier a whale was found in Delray Beach.
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