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Researchers studying why sperm whale became stranded in bay


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    MOBILE, AL (WALA) — The Dauphin Island Sea Lab releasing findings from a study of sperm whale that became stranded late last year in Mobile Bay.

It was the story that captivated the Gulf Coast and one of our most talked about animal stories of 2020. It was also a first for the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

“It’s actually the first live large whale — that has ever stranded in Alabama,” said Dr. Jenny Bloodgood, Dauphin Island Sea Lab Veterinarian.

Dr. Bloodgood was among the Sea Lab team that responded to the call for help November 19th.

“The very first day we were able to approach the whale. My colleague and I got into the water — Mackenzie Russell is the stranding coordinator and we were able to cover the animal with sheets because it was exposed — it was stranded to the point where it’s back was above water,” recalled Dr. Bloodgood.

The deep sea animal was clearly in distress and appeared to have been sick for a while.

“Right away we were able to determine he was emaciated… He was very, very skinny,” said Dr. Bloodgood.

After being stranded for a week in the Mobile Bay and exhausting all options — the decision was made to euthanize. The team immediately began a necropsy or animal autopsy.

“It was extremely important — I would compare it to the CSI of people,” explained Dr. Bloodgood.

In their search for answers — they were able to get a photo ID match of the whale — taken 9 years ago about 125 miles west of Florida — helping them estimate he was about 12 to 20 years old.

“With dolphins you can photograph their dorsal fin, and with sperm whales you actually use their tail or their flukes and we were able to match this animal with his previous photo — which was taken in 2012. We were not expecting that at all,” said Dr. Bloodgood.

The whale weighed 30,000 pounds and was 33 1/2 feet long — about the length of a school bus.

They would take more than 450 organ and tissue samples — confirming the animal had not eaten in weeks or possibly months. While they did find some inflammation — they ran several tests but were unable find any obvious signs of infection. They also ruled out human error.

“We determined it had not been hit by a boat or vessel. We found no evidence of trauma. We do still have a few tests still pending — so we didn’t find any evidence of marine debris ingestion or anything like that, but we still have pending tests for contaminants as well as biotoxins. So we have some work still left to do,” explained Dr. Bloodgood.

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