On Saturday morning, Aug. 10, Gulf World Marine Institute’s stranding team responded to a call from Blair Maze, stranding coordinator for the Southeast Region of the National Marine Fisheries Service, to report a stranded marine mammal on the Gulf side of Dog Island.
Officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) stayed on scene until the institute’s stranding team arrived and identified the whale as an eight-and-one-half foot male melon-headed whale.
A species normally found in deep water and not a common visitor here, Gulf World has responded to only one other melon-headed whale stranded along Franklin County beaches in the past five years.
The stranded whale, lethargic and with very weak vital signs, needed to be transported overland to the bay side of the island, and then taken by boat to Carrabelle and by van to Panama City for treatment.
Even though the chance of the sick animal surviving the transport was small, the team decided this was better than no chance. With the help of several volunteers, and a vehicle belonging to an island resident, the animal was loaded onto the FWC boat to cross the bay. Before arriving at Carrabelle, the animal died.
He was taken to the National Marine Fisheries Lab in Panama City where the institute team performed a required necropsy the next morning. Tissue samples were sent to NOAA Fisheries for further testing and to conclude the cause of death.
Preliminary results from the necropsy indicated the animal had pneumonia and fluid around the heart.
Melon-headed whales, also known as many-toothed blackfish and Electra dolphin, are closely related to pygmy killer whales. They occur worldwide in warm to cool water but are rarely seen by humans because these whales prefer the open ocean.
They usually travel in groups of 100 or more. Males live 22 years and females more than 30. Their main food is squid.
Gulf World thanked all of the people that helped in the effort to save this animal.
According to the website for “Whale and Dolphin Conservation,” single stranded marine mammals are usually sick or injured and do not survive.
If you find a stranded whale or dolphin, remember marine animals are wild animals, can carry diseases which are transferable to humans, and can cause injury by thrashing their tails or otherwise. Do not put yourself at risk of injury; approach them with care. Do not attempt to move heavy animals without adequate assistance. Always wash your hands thoroughly after contact.
The most important thing is to seek out an expert immediately to help the animal. In this area, call FWC’s Florida Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline (888) 404-3922.
While help is on the way, calmly approach the animal but be careful; whales and dolphins can make sudden movements. If you can find assistance, gently roll the animal onto its belly and keep its skin wet with seawater. Do not pull on its fins or tail and be very careful not to get water down its blowhole. Keep people and dogs away to reduce the stress to which the animal is exposed.
Do not drag the animal back to the water. This may cause it a serious injury. – By Lois Swoboda