Pygmy sperm whale washes up on Florida’s Atlantic coast

NEW SMYRNA BEACH – A pygmy sperm whale was shot after it washed ashore Friday morning on the Atlantic coast of southeastern Volusia County.

A beachgoer called the incident shortly before 9 a.m. Friday from south New Smyrna Beach near the Matthews Avenue beach approach, according to beach safety captain Tammy Malphurs.

The animal was an adult male just over 9 feet long and weighed more than 600 pounds, rescuers said.

The whale was euthanized on the beach on Friday morning, according to Megan Stolen, director of the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute laboratory in Melbourne.

This is unfortunate protocol for this species, Stolen explained.

“They’re always sick when they land. They’re deep-sea whales. They belong way offshore,” she said. “They really don’t survive in a rehab setting… In the past, the stranding network has tried to rehabilitate them, but they still die.”

Allison Garrett, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Florida had averaged nine pygmy sperm whale strandings per year over the past decade, while Volusia County averaged fewer. of one.

“Pygmy sperm whales are our most common live strandings in the southeastern United States,” Garrett said.

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The reason for the stranding of the stranded whale is under investigation

The reason for the grounding is under investigation. Scientists were performing an autopsy Friday afternoon at the Marine Discovery Center to investigate the cause.

“We don’t know why,” Stolen said. “That’s the point of the autopsy is to find out why. But I can tell you that a lot of these whales have heart disease.”

Five personnel from the Volusia County Marine Mammal Stranding Team and two scientists from the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute responded to Friday morning’s incident.

They covered the working animal with a towel and poured water over its body at the edge of the ocean, erecting a tent to protect it from the sun and cordoning off the area as a small crowd of bathers looked on. .

A 9-foot-long pygmy sperm whale washed up on New Smyrna Beach on Friday, July 23, 2021.

According to NOAA, pygmy sperm whales are found in temperate and tropical seas around the world. Despite their wide distribution, scientists rarely see the species in the wild, and its population size is unknown.

They have one of the shortest life expectancies of any whale, only living to be 23 years old, according to NOAA.

The age of the whale that washed ashore on Friday was not yet known, but Stolen said it could be determined by analyzing one of the mammal’s teeth. They contain rings, similar to those found in a tree trunk.

Pygmy sperm whales are one of the smallest whale species, averaging 10 feet long and weighing no more than 900 pounds, according to the American Cetacean Society.

They are protected in 182 countries, including the United States.

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