Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Officials perform necropsy on humpback whale that died at Fort Pierce Inlet

FORT PIERCE— Results of a necropsy from a humpback whale that died overnight Monday won't be known for several weeks, marine conservation officials said Tuesday.

The 28-foot-long juvenile whale beached in the shallows at the inlet and officials had to wait for the tide to rise to help in moving the animal to Fort Pierce Inlet State Park, where construction equipment was used to pull it onto a beach, said Blair Mase, a federal marine mammal stranding coordinator.
"Something must have been wrong for it to come to shore," Mase said. "It was thin and in poor body condition."
Crews from the institute and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute conducted the necropsy outside, which isn't unusual when considering the mammal's size of 5,000 to 6,000 pounds, said Megan Stolen, research biologist with Hubbs Sea World Research Institute, a nonprofit arm of Sea World.
After the necropsy Tuesday, crews towed the carcass out to sea for disposal, Mase said.
Despite its weight, Stolen said the whale was "emaciated" and should have weighed double that amount.

"It was definitely a very sick whale," Stolen said. "Its stomach was virtually empty."
The whale at Fort Pierce Inlet was alive when fisherman Vince Randolph reported finding it. He and friends were flounder-gigging at 10:30 p.m. Monday in the area of Dynamite Point when they spotted something large sticking out of the water.

"We were freaking when we realized it was a whale and it was alive" in about 5 feet of water, Randolph said.
They alerted a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official in a passing boat and wildlife officials were called in.

But the animal expired.
"It is not common to have a fresh specimen," Mase said. "We should be able to learn a lot from it."
In Florida, humpback whales that die usually are juveniles. Of the five humpback whales that have died along Florida's coastline in the past five years, four were juveniles, Mase said.
Humpback whales are an endangered species. During this time of year, humpback whales migrate south in the ocean off Florida. The whales are dark gray and have large white fins.
Staff writer Keona Gardner contributed to this report.


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