Stranded killer whale buried in secret location on Florida college campus. Here’s why

21-foot orca washed up on the beach south of Jungle Hut Park in Palm Coast

The killer whale was found on Jan. 11 in Pam Coast. It was transported off the beach to a lab at SeaWorld Orlando. (Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute))

ORLANDO, Fla. – A beached 21-foot killer whale that was found dead Jan. 11 on a beach in Flagler County was buried in a secret location on the University of Florida campus, according to WUFT, the NPR member radio station owned by UF.

The whale washed up on the beach south of Jungle Hut Park in Palm Coast and weighed about 5,000 to 6,000 pounds, officials said.

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One of the first people to see the whale and report it was Derek Pence, who said he was walking the beach when he saw something in the water.

“When I called, I was really hoping for a rescue and not a recovery,” Pence said. “... It appeared it was alive when we first came up on it.”

According to a WUFT article written by UF student Aubrey Bocalan, several agencies, including Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute, SeaWorld Orlando, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, responded to the beached orca in Palm Coast.

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Killer whale strandings are extremely rare, according to Dr. Erin Fougeres, administrator of NOAA’s marine mammal stranding program.

“We do know they’re out there, we just don’t get them stranded very often, so it’s a surprise and a very interesting animal to recover,” Fougeres said.

“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.

Crews transported the whale to a lab at SeaWorld Orlando, where they performed a necropsy. The animal autopsy confirmed the orca was an older female with some evidence of illness.

After the necropsy, the killer whale carcass was taken to a secret research facility at the University of Florida, according to WUFT. Scientists will study the decomposition of the creature and its effect on the environment at the facility said Jason Byrd, a professor at the William R. Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine.

The skull from the last killer whale to be stranded in the South, which happened in 1956 in the Destin area, is displayed at the college’s Research and Collections at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

This skull belonged to the killer whale that was found in 1956 in Okaloosa County, Florida. It is located at Research and Collections at the Florida Museum of Natural History. ((Aubrey Bocalan/WUFT News))

The skeleton of the killer whale found at Palm Coast will not stay in Florida. After the tissue decomposes, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History will add the skeleton to their collection in Washington D.C.

“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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About the Author:

Jacob joined in 2022. He spent 19 years at the Orlando Sentinel, mostly as a photojournalist and video journalist, before joining Spectrum News 13 as a web editor and digital journalist in 2021.