MARCO ISLAND — A mother and calf pair of pygmy sperm whales have been euthanized after being found stranded off Kice Island to the south of Marco Island.
They were euthanized at Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory, after which the animals were transported to a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission laboratory in St. Petersburg for necropsies.
The ending followed a concerted rescue effort triggered by a call from a tour operator who saw the bigger mammal swimming forcefully into mangroves on Kice Island.
Among those involved in the rescue operation on Friday afternoon was Capt. Ron Hagerman of Marco Island.
Hagerman, who runs Capt. Ron’s Awesome Everglades Adventures personal watercraft tours, by chance saw a truck he recognized as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s stranded mammal vehicle while both were stopped at a traffic light on the way to Marco Island.
Hagerman figured these vehicles “don’t just ride around,” so he rolled down his window and was told a crew was on the way to a stranding at Kice Island just to the south of Marco.
He arranged to meet the team at nearby Caxambas boat ramp on Marco Island, and offered to transport two Conservation Commission officers, Caitlin Cisek and Research Associate Denise Boyd, to the area by personal watercraft.
They were later met by another team on a boat at the site.
Hagerman and two of his staffers, John Pipitone and Avi Langer, as well as the Conservation Commission officers, saw the bloodied mother bumping up against some mangroves, and ventured closer to help.
“It was just beating itself up on dead mangrove sticks,” Hagerman said. “It was obviously disoriented.”
Conservation Commission officers and Hagerman’s crew then placed a sling around the whale, which was about 10 to 12 feet long, and which weighed an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 pounds.
Because there was no accessible beach area close by, they walked the whale in shoulder-deep water about 200 yards to an area that had some sand.
Upon arrival, they were taken aback when they saw a half-beached baby whale belonging to the mother.
It was about 6 feet long, with an estimated weight of 150 pounds, and appeared in better shape than the mother, Hagerman said.
At the beach area, the rescuers placed the mother and calf side-by-side, and kept them wet.
“An officer took their vitals and respirations every five minutes,” Hagerman said.
The next step was to place the baby in the back of the Conservation Commission boat, and secure the mother in a sling to the side of the boat.
On the way to Caxambas boat ramp, the rescuers made sure to water the two animals down constantly.
At the ramp, they were placed on foam pads in the air-conditioned stranding vehicle and taken to Sarasota.
Saturday, Boyd said these types of whales generally don’t fare well in captivity, and also tend to suffer from heart problems in general.
They are, she said, normally found in much deeper water, and much farther off shore.
She said a misconception is that pointing a beached or stranded whale toward open water is advisable.
“Whales usually become stranded when they are sick or injured,” she said. “That’s the first clue.”
Instead, she said, people observing stranded whales or dolphins should call the Conservation Commission hot line at 1-888-404-3922.
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The pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps, is among the smallest of all whales. It isn’t much larger than many dolphins, growing to about 10 feet.
Pygmy sperm whales are found in the temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.
They have a blue-gray back and sides and a paler, sometimes pinkish underside.
They tend to be solitary although they have been observed rarely in pods of up to six.
They feed on squid and crabs.
Rarely seen and shy of contact, most of the information about them comes from stranded specimens, some killed by plastic bags in their stomachs, others killed in drift nets.