Human pollution likely killed 47-foot sperm whale found dead off Florida Keys

Newborn calf also found dead this month

This month proved to be deadly for two endangered sperm whales that beached themselves in the water of the Florida Keys last week.

MONROE COUNTY, Fla. – This month proved to be deadly for two endangered sperm whales that beached themselves in the water of the Florida Keys last week.

A newborn calf became separated from its mother and couldn’t survive on its own. But the adult male that was found days later apparently was killed by something a lot more insidious.

What was once a 47-foot majestic sperm whale was later devoured by hungry sharks off Big Pine Key.

“I was amazed just seeing the sharks there,” Capt. Jack Carlson, owner of Two Conchs Charters, said. “The decaying whale brings in the sharks from everywhere.”

Huge tiger sharks were seen feasting off the dead whale for days.

Wildlife officials had dragged the carcass back out to sea after the giant mammal beached itself off Mudd Key, 15 miles northeast of Key West, on May 10.

“So that whale’s been floating out there for quite some time,” Carlson said.

Carlson said he couldn’t believe the images his crew was sharing with him.

“It’s just sad to see a creature like that floating dead on the water,” he said.

What’s even worse -- the whale was most likely killed by human pollution.

Stranded in the shallow waters of the Gulf, the adult male was one of two endangered sperm whales found dead in Florida Keys waters in just seven days. It was brought to Robbie’s Marina on Stock Island, where state and federal biologists conducted a necropsy.

According to an FWC spokesperson, the whale “had a mass of intertwined line, net pieces and a plastic bag-type material in its stomach. This debris likely did not allow the whale to eat properly, leading to its emaciated condition and stranding.”

“Unfortunately, when animals consume our trash, they can’t break it down in their stomachs and they fill up and actually think they’re full, so they can end up starving,” said Maddie Kaufman, program and outreach director of Debris Free Oceans.

Debris Free Oceans is one several ocean conservation organizations advocating to reduce global plastic waste.

Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean and that’s on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons already there.

“We’ve actually picked up 2,000 pounds of trash between all of our reef cleanups out here in Miami over the last four years -- some sites we find like 130 pounds,” Kaufman said.

It is killing our marine life, and we’re seeing it happen in real time.

“We see the animals that it affects -- they’re choking, they’re getting strangled and entangled in these items and it’s heartbreaking,” said Catherine Uden, South Florida representative of Oceana.

In the past 17 months alone, we’ve shown you two separate incidents of Biscayne Bay dolphins becoming ensnared in carelessly discarded fishing line and netting -- dolphins that would’ve most certainly died had they not been rescued by good humans who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

But there was no hero to save the adult whale from consuming all that marine debris, and that’s on all of us.

Until we do better and dramatically reduce our plastic footprint, tragic scenes like this will continue to play out.

“If you guys are out there on the water and you see a piece of floating trash, whether it’s a balloon, floating bottle, debris, just pick it up,” Carlson said. “We do it every day down here….the Florida Keys guides value our water down here…Keep our oceans clean!”

FWC officials say final necropsy results will be released once tissue from the dead sperm whale is analyzed.

The material found in its stomach will also be sent out to determine its type and where it might have originated from.

Click here for more information on Debris Free Oceans and how you can join their mission of cleaning up our ocean and reefs.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.