There are some things that you don’t see every day.
Last Thursday a female beaked whale washed ashore on Cape San Blas around 7 a.m. ET near Billy Joe Rish State Park.
At first, the whale appeared to be a dolphin but was quickly identified by members of the area turtle patrol to be a beaked whale.
The whale was first spotted by a visitor who quickly called the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office.
From there, the South Gulf County Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to the scene and arrived at 9:30 a.m. ET to find a small crowd amassed around the animal.
According to turtle patrol volunteer Julia Cunningham, the whale had been seen circling the area over the prior several days, but was thought to be a dolphin.
The mammal was far out of its habitat, with beaked whales typically living in areas with more than 300 meters of water.
Cunningham, who was one of the first people to arrive on the scene, found the whale on its side. She said that she rushed out into the cold, knee-deep water and rolled the animal over to uncover her blow hole, allowing the whale to breath.
“Once I rolled her over, it sounded like she was gasping,” said Cunningham.
Several more members of the turtle patrol arrived and used nylon straps to keep the whale’s head above water, preventing it from drowning.
The volunteers stayed in the frigid water, fighting cold temperatures and rain for several hours until Dr. Lydia Staggs from Gulf World Marine Institute arrived.
“Any stranding is due to the animal being sick or debilitated,” said Secret Holmes-Douglas, Director of animal care & training at GWMI.
After assessing the situation, Staggs, along with other GWMI researchers, made the decision to sedate and euthanize the whale.
It was removed from the beach with county equipment and transported to Alabama for necropsy and study.
Cunningham said that shark bites were found on the whale and euthanizing the animal was the most humane decision.
“She died a much better death this way,” said Cunningham. “If we’d gotten her back out into the water, sharks would have eaten her.
“This was a much better outcome than suffering in the water.”
Beaked whales are the members of the family Ziphiidae which consists of 21 species. These toothed whales are notable for their elongated beaks.
Beaked whales are deep divers and regularly dive deeper than 500 meters to echolocate for food. They spend much of their lives below water.
“If you see a stranded animal, immediately call the National Marine Fisheries Service hotline,” said Holmes-Douglas. “Never push an animal back into the water -- they are stranded for a reason.”
Any stranded animals should be reported immediately by calling 888-404-3922.