One of eight dead pilot whales found near Fort Myers, Fla., is hoisted into the bed of a truck at Lover's Key Boat ramp by Tom Dube, left, and Brad Martin, both from the Lee County Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday. The whale was being transported to an undisclosed area where it will undergo a necropsy.
(Photo: Andrew West, The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press)
By Christina Cepero and Chad Gillis
The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Wildlife officials are trying to determine what caused eight pilot whales to become stranded in shallow waters off Lovers Key State Park south of Fort Myers.
Two were euthanized Tuesday and one was found dead in a mangrove area; another washed up on shore just south of Dog Beach. They join two euthanized and two discovered Monday. The six others in the pod were not sighted by helicopter or boats.
"Frequently they're very sick when they strand, or if they're not sick when they strand they become sick very quickly," said Erin Fougeres, marine mammal biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.
"They're well out of their normal range."
Thirty-seven short-finned pilot whales have beached themselves in Lee and Collier counties in southwest Florida since Sunday, when a group of 23 came in to Gordon Pass in Naples.
The cause of the strandings is unknown.
The whales that beached in Naples on Sunday were reported in the Marco Island area Tuesday, Fougeres said. The whales that swam into New Pass are not the same ones that swam into Gordon Pass on Sunday.
Tow crews and biologists spent much of the day hauling whale carcasses to Lovers Key State Park, where onsite necropsies were performed. A necropsy is the animal equivalent to an autopsy.
One whale was lying limp on a boat ramp across the street from the park entrance. The carcass had to be dragged into the bay waters before being loaded in the back of a pickup. Blood trickled down the ramp, and brown pelicans and sea gulls flocked nearby.
Biologists made incisions before and after the dorsal fins before slipping massive metal hooks under the blubber layer. One whale was showing signs of rigor mortis as its tail was almost erect. A few flies swarmed, and the nearby area smelled like an old seafood market.
The two whales euthanized Monday were taken by truck to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission lab in St. Petersburg for necropsies. One weighed 1,610 pounds.
The public flocked to the Lover Key Park as well. Traffic was slow on New Pass bridge as spectators hiked to the apex to search for the whales.
Wayne Ziegler, of Bonita Springs, ran his index finger along one of the whale's tail.
"I just wanted to see what it felt like," Ziegler said. "It was kind of like a dolphin. But it's sad. I was hoping not to see any here today. I was hoping they'd all be offshore, where they're supposed to be."
Sadie Dallas and her family are Ontario, Canada, residents who spend winters in Bonita Springs.
"I've filmed a lot of whales, a lot of them breaching," Dallas said. "But I've never filmed a dead whale."
"They typically would bury them after the necropsies are completed," said Kevin Baxter, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Research Institute.
Florida Gulf Coast University student Jessica Souza came to the boat ramp with her mother, Liz, and grandmother, Mary Gonsalves.
"It's kind of depressing, really," Liz Souza said. "We're just hoping they can come to some conclusion as to why this is happening."
No details were available Tuesday on the necropsies.
The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press