Fishing gear and pieces of plastic bags found in stomach of dead sperm whale in Keys | New
Biologists performing a necropsy on a sperm whale that washed up in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the Florida Keys said they found man-made materials in the mammal’s stomach that likely contributed to its death.
The adult male was one of two sperm whales that died in Florida Keys waters in seven days. The other was a newborn calf that separated from its mother off Key Largo on May 4.
Both deaths are under investigation, but state and federal scientists say they do not initially appear to be linked.
Carlisle Jones, spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the whale that died on Tuesday – a 47ft adult male – “had a mass of intertwined lines, pieces of netting and some type of plastic bag in his stomach.
The objects were found Wednesday by state agency and federal biologists performing the autopsy, an animal autopsy, on the large mammal at the docks at Robbie’s Marina on Stock Island, near Key West. A boat towing company took the whale there the day before from where it was found off Mud Key, an island about 15 miles northeast of Key West.
“The debris probably did not allow the whale to eat properly, leading to its emaciated state and stranding,” Jones said Thursday.
Scientists, however, still need to perform more diagnostic tests on tissue samples taken from the whale during the autopsy to confirm the exact cause of the stranding and death, Jones said.
“Material collected from his stomach will also be sent to determine his type and where he may have come from,” Jones said.
Sperm whales are listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act and “exhausted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They are the largest toothed whales and are found in oceans around the world, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean in southern Florida.
However, they mostly live and hunt in very deep water, so it’s rare to see them near shore in the Keys, where the water is generally shallow. And when they’re spotted there, it’s usually a sign that they’re sick or in distress.
The calf that died last week still had an open umbilical cord when it was found on a small barrier island off John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo in the Upper Keys, Blair Mase said. Regional Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for the National Oceanic. and the Atmospheric Administration’s National Fisheries Service.
Autopsy results are still pending on the death of the 9 1/2-foot-long female whale, but Mase said the fact that she was separated from her mother so soon after birth was probably an important contributing factor.