TIERRA VERDE, Fla. - Heavy-duty tools were needed to perform a necropsy on an animal that weighs more than ten thousand pounds.
The 32-foot Sperm whale that stranded itself off the Madeira Beach coast on Thursday was methodically dismantled on a remote Ft. DeSoto beach. A team of biologists and researchers wanted to know what made the female whale sick.
"It's very important to find the cause because what could be affecting her, could be affecting the other groups that are out in the gulf," said Dr. Mike Walsh, with the University of Florida's Aquatic Animal Health Program.
The whale is considered to be pre-adult, probably between ten and twenty years old. Once a cross-section of one of the whale's teeth is examined, a more certain age will be known.
Laura Engleby, a biologist with NOAA Fisheries Services S.E. knows they must accept the good with the bad.
"On the one hand, it's an incredibly heart-breaking situation. And on the other hand, at time same time, even though it's really sad, it does present an unprecedented opportunity to collect as much scientific data as we can," Engleby said.
As crews labored in the midday sun, with the whales' final resting spot in sight, they discovered many of the organs in the abdominal cavity showed signs of an infection.
"We have an animal that has a chronic infection; probably has stopped eating. We're going to go through the gut and find out if its been eating. But a lot of times it's kind of a cascade affect where you get infection, it gets worse, you stop eating," explained Andy Garrett, a biologist with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"Because it's coming from the gulf, this is also considered an animal who could have had exposure to oil. It doesn't mean that (oil) was involved in the death, but potentially that's an animal that could have migrated through areas, picked up some kind of a material that could tell us that they were in that area as well," added Walsh.
Officials say that it could be weeks, or even months before they have the results back on the necropsy of this whale. They say that they may never know for sure why it stranded itself in the surf off of Madeira beach.
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