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Sperm whale necropsy completed; some answers, but not all

7:27 PM, Nov 1, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: Whale beached near John's Pass

Video: Whale necropsy completed; some answers, but not all

 

Pinellas County, Florida - The day after Halloween, Fort De Soto beach looked a bit macabre... knives, blood, and one guy sporting bright orange hair. However, this was no ghoulish ritual, but rather a serious scientific endeavor.

Dozens of scientists from several agencies teamed up to perform a necropsy on the sperm whale that was euthanized on Thursday.

The process will yield all sorts of information.

"Based on what's in her stomach, in her GI tract, we can tell a little bit about what she ate, you can get fat samples that will tell you what she's been eating over a long period of her lifetime, her teeth can tell us how old she is," explained UF whale veterinarian Mike Walsh.

While the whale was very underweight, dissecting something of this size can still be daunting.  After all, biologists had 32 feet and five tons to deal with.

"You can imagine the size of your heart: about a fist. I had my hands on this whale's heart and it's about the size of a basket," said FWC Biologist Andy Garrett, holding his arms in a circle out in front of him.

While the beached whale drew hundreds of spectators to Madeira Beach on Thursday, Friday's work took place in a remote area of Fort De Soto and only a few people came to watch the necropsy. 

Rob Ruckle was among them. He hopes the scientists find out why the whale was so sick. "The professionals and the public as well, would like to have some answers," he said.

And while everyone involved is sad to see such a marvelous mammal die, in death this whale can now possibly help other Gulf dwellers.

"It's very important to find out the cause, because what's affecting her could be impacting the other groups that are out in the Gulf. So that can be a window on the problems in the Gulf," said Walsh.

By late Friday afternoon the necropsy had been completed and the whale's carcass buried. No firm conclusions on the cause of the whale's illness, but scientists did find signs of a severe infection and they say the mature female had most likely been sick for months.

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