Marine mammal responders rushed to Tavernier’s Harry Harris Park on Aug. 13 for the report of what was initially thought to be a distressed dolphin in shallow water. Upon arrival, Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder discovered a dead male Gervais’ beaked whale weighing more than 1,000 pounds.
Around 5 p.m., a boater noticed a large marine mammal, believing it to be a dolphin struggling in 2-3 feet of water not far from the oceanside park. Observing the struggling animal for several minutes, the boater called Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation (FWC) to report the incident. FWC dispatched the call to DPMMR, the primary responder for sick, injured and orphaned whales and dolphins in the Florida Keys, which swiftly responded to find a dead Gervais’ beaked whale.
Art Cooper, DPMMR founder, said FWC towed the dead animal from Harry Harris Park to Tavernier Creek Marina.
“We needed a beefier trailer than I had on hand. Tavernier Creek Marina was exceptionally gracious. They helped us tow the animal to their boat forklift. We were able to lay the animal onto the trailer,” Cooper said.
From there, the whale was transported to the U.S. Park Service facility in Key Largo, where DPMMR veterinarians and FWC biologists began a necropsy on Aug. 14. Cooper said they didn’t see anything out of the ordinary such as a boat strike. The necropsy concluded just before 4 p.m. Cooper said a CT scan of the animal will determine whether there was any barotrauma.
“It’s better on CT than gross examination,” Cooper said, adding they collected multiple organ and tissue samples.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will begin extensive followup testing and a histopathology, or a diagnosis and study of diseases of the tissues.
“I’ve been doing this for 33 years. I’ve handled over 685 whales and dolphins in my career here and I’ve only seen three beaked whales in that whole time. This was quite rare,” Cooper said.
Since the animal was not euthanized and died organically, Cooper said they were able to take the remains of the carcass out to sea. Cooper commended all agencies responding to the incident.
“This takes a village. In order to do it well, everyone who can pitches in and helps out. It’s been fruitful for us to have this,” Cooper said.