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June 14, 2024

44-foot sperm whale dies after rare beaching along Florida’s Gulf Coast

VENICE, Fla. — In a rare occurrence along Florida’s Gulf Coast, a large sperm whale that drew national attention after beaching itself on a sandbar died Monday, state wildlife officials said.

The whale was measured at about 44 feet long, roughly the size of a large school bus. It weighs as much as 70,000 pounds, officials said.

Police and wildlife officials began trying Sunday morning to free the male whale just off the beach in Venice, Florida. By that evening, the whale was suffering from labored breathing and died around 3 a.m. Monday, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“Today, biologists will collect samples to attempt to determine cause of illness and death and to better understand sperm whale health, and life history,” the FWC said in a statement.

The process was expected to take weeks.

A beached sperm whale on a sandbar off the beach along Florida’s Gulf Coast in Venice on Sunday.City of Venice Florida via AP

Although there are an estimated 1,100 sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico, they are typically found in deep waters and rarely venture close to shore. Only a few such strandings occur each year in the southeast U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Laura Engleby, chief of the marine mammal branch for NOAA’s southeast region, said at a news conference the last sperm whale beaching along the Gulf happened in 2008.

“We don’t typically see them. This is a rare event,” Engleby said, adding that the whale appeared “very thin” and was most likely very ill. Sample testing will determine the cause of death.

“Sometimes we won’t know for months the results of those,” she said. “Sometimes it’s obvious right away.”

Sperm whales are listed as an endangered species in the U.S.

Eventually, the whale’s carcass is likely to be either towed out to sea, taken to a landfill or buried, officials said. It was initially estimated by police to be 70 feet long before it was determined to be shorter in length.

Venice is about 75 miles south of Tampa.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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