Wildlife officials in Florida are investigating the death of a female killer whale that grounded itself on Wednesday on a beach in Palm Coast, about 30 miles north of Daytona Beach.
“This is the first killer whale stranding in the Southeast US, so there’s a lot of interest, obviously, in trying to sample it extensively and try to determine why it might have been sick and why it stranded,” Erin Fougeres, the Marine Mammal Stranding Program administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southeast Region told CNN.
Fougeres said the killer whale, or orca, was reported by a member of the public at around first light on Wednesday morning.
It was still alive but died before a team arrive to help.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office posted photos and video of the orca on social media and urged people to avoid the area until it is removed.
Deputies closed a road leading up to the area because of the crowds of people gathering to see the whale, it said on Facebook.
Fougeres said they are transporting the animal to a lab for a necropsy and it could take weeks or even months to determine why it stranded itself.
“We have veterinarians and very skilled biologists and pathologists who will be on scene to conduct the necropsy of the animal,” she said. “They’ll open up the whale and they’ll go through every organ system and look to observe if there’s any gross lesions, anything obviously wrong with the different organ systems, and they’ll take extensive samples from the whale, which will then send out to a lab, or multiple labs actually for analysis.”
Killer whales are the largest member of the dolphin family and are the ocean’s top predator, according to the NOAA Fisheries website.
There are an estimated 50,000 killer whales globally and they live in every ocean in the world, according to the agency.
Fougeres said that killer whales do work their way down to US waters in the southeast, but “it’s fairly uncommon.”
The southeast region runs from the coast of North Carolina down to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and west to Texas in the Gulf of Mexico.