It was a tough call for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), but authorities decided to euthanize two pygmy sperm whales after they were beached on Jacksonville's Neptune Beach.
Volunteers for the FWC's Marine Mammal Response immediately responded to calls on Sunday morning after passersby on Neptune Beach witnessed an adult sperm whale injured on the beach near Walnut Street and her young stranded just a small distance away. The calf was just a few hours old and could have been born earlier that morning, reported local media outlet News4Jax.
"What may have happened was the mother was giving birth this morning near shore and a shark was in the area," said Cheyanne Rubin of the FWC. "Witnesses did report to us seeing a commotion where the shark may have been interacting with the adult female."
Mark Johnson, one of the witnesses who happened to be biking along the beach at around 7 a.m., said it was one of the most shocking things he had ever seen.
"She came straight up out of the water and then just... a ton of commotion..." said Johnson. "The blood and water was just massive."
A video of the incident shows the mother whale was clearly stressed, as it began flailing around on the sand while volunteers tried to treat it.
Rubin said officials decided to euthanize both whales after due consideration, explaining that it was ill-advised to put the animals back in the water with a shark prowling nearby and the calf being just a few hours old. She added that pygmy sperm whales are solitary animals and don't do well in captivity.
Both whales received a necropsy at a facility in Buck Island after they were euthanized.
The news comes just days after around 150 melon-headed whales from the dolphin family were found stranded on a beach near the Japanese town of Hokota some 60 miles northeast of Tokyo.
Coast guard officials were dumbfounded to find so many of the dolphins stranded at once and helped similarly shocked locals attempting to take them back to the water using slings. Only three were successfully rescued, as most of them ended up back on the sand due to the tide.
Melon-headed whales are deep-water creatures and seldom appear on land. Authorities have yet to understand how and why the mass beaching happened.