FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – Scientists who examined the killer whale found dead on a Flagler County beach Wednesday said the female orca appeared to be ill when it beached itself.
Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday that a team worked through the night to collect samples for a necropsy of the whale.
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From those samples, the team said it appeared there was no sign of humans or human interaction with the whale, and no sign of trauma like a boat strike.
“What they did see and determine was that this whale was an older female, almost geriatric,” said Blair Mase, the stranding coordinator for NOAA. “She did have a lot of disease processes going on so it looks like it was more of an illness.”
The 21-foot killer whale washed up on the beach south of Jungle Hut Park in Palm Coast on Wednesday. It weighed about 5,000 to 6,000 pounds, crews said.
According to Dr. Erin Fougeres, administrator of NOAA’s marine mammal stranding program, this is the first killer whale stranding ever reported in the southeast region of the U.S.
Mase said killer whale sightings off the coast do happen occasionally, especially this time of year. It depends on whether the fish that the whales like to eat are migrating in the area.
“We do have an identified stock in the Gulf of Mexico and we have a stock identified in the Atlantic that we typically see in the warmer water,” Mase said.
“I think people are just not aware because we don’t see them up close to shore but they are in the deeper waters and we do get a lot of sightings in the Bahamas as well,” Mase said.
As for the whale carcass, The Smithsonian has an interest in the skeleton of the killer whale because it’s so rare for that species to be stranded in Florida.
“So steps now are being made to get that skeleton to them so they can look at that from an osteological standpoint and give us more clues on what kind of animal is here, from what species, and what stock,” Mase said.
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