EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla. – A rare whale washed ashore dead Tuesday afternoon on a small natural island just west of Sandy Key near Everglades National Park, officials said.
Blair Mase-Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said a fisherman alerted authorities about the beached whale.
The animal was a 38-foot Bryde's whale. Only 100 Bryde's whales are known to be in the Gulf of Mexico, Mase-Guthrie said. Since 2005, researchers have only spotted five of the whales.
"I've been fishing down here over 30 years. Craziest thing I've ever seen," Capt. Jim Hobales said.
Rescuers pulled the whale from the beach and brought the animal into the park for examination. Biologists and other scientists took samples from the animal and are conducting other tests.
"It's home to Florida -- all the water surrounding Florida -- so it was really critical for us to not only study the whale but what caused it to die," FWC mammal researcher Denise Boyd said.
The remains were extracted out of the water Thursday and onto a flatbed to be carried away.
Bystanders snapped photos of the process, which took four hours to complete.
"It was crazy," Hobales said. "You had a 40-foot whale sitting in the middle of a boat ramp with 3,400 people standing here amazed, watching the Sea Tow guys trying to pull it out, even breaking their strap."
Local 10's cameras were rolling Thursday afternoon as the whale, covered in a blue tarp, was driven away from the Flamingo Marina area of the park.
The site where the whale was found was washed downed and decontaminated over a process that proved messy.
Researchers said, in the end, it was all worth it as they gathered many samples from the rare species.
"Whale strandings don't happen that often, especially when they're in a fresh-dead condition, so it was a remarkable opportunity to learn a lot and also educate the public," Boyd said. "So this information we were able to obtain should help other species that are out there in the surrounding waters, as well."