09:37 EST, 17 December 2012
10:35 EST, 17 December 2012
At least one unidentified swimmer was videotaped riding a sperm whale off the coast of Florida – and hours later the animal was dead. Now a federal investigation has been launched into what killed the endangered species.
Witnessed drifting off Pompano Beach by beachgoers on Sunday, the distressed whale was described as still alive when it was first photographed with at least one swimmer repeatedly climbing on top of its back, but it may have already been dying by then.
‘This whale was likely ill or injured and that is why it came in so close to shore,’ Blair Mase Mase, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s southeast regional stranding coordinator told NBC Miami.
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Sad ending: Hours after this swimmer was photographed riding on the back of a distressed sperm whale off Florida’s coast, the endangered animal has died
Shocking scene: One of two of the swimmers are seen here climbing on top of the animal with officials later describing the whale as either sick or injured at the time
The animal’s exact cause of death is not known but wildlife officials say they are not defending the swimmer’s involvement.
It is a federal offense to harass a marine mammal.
‘This type of harassment could have caused more harm and added stress to an already stressed whale and ultimately caused its demise,’ Ms Mase said.
Witnesses say the whale, described at times as having waved its fin out of the water, was somehow fighting the rip current pulling it out to sea while edging closer to shore.
Investigation: A federal investigation has been opened since the incident by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with it being a federal offense to harass a marine mammal
Awestruck: A woman and a little girl were just one of dozens who watched the whale from the beach drift along the coast before its death
That’s when Margie Casey, standing on her fifth-floor balcony, says she snapped a photo of one of the two swimmers climb on top of the distressed animal.
She called the scene ‘so sad’ while believing the whale to have been on its ‘last leg’ at the time.
A marine mammal rescue team, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission all responded to the scene with divers sent into the water beside it.
First responders: A marine mammal rescue team, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission responded to the scene with the whale seen just before a sheriff boat
‘There’s really very little you can do for a whale if he gets seriously ill or injured and my wife Barbara she’s out there, sticking her head in the water trying to see what’s going on,’ Dr Stefan Harzen of the Taras Oceanographic Foundation told NBC.
Officer Jorge Pino with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tells NBC that their involvement with potential criminal charges rests with NOAA.
‘The only way that we would get involved in that is if NOAA asks us to assist in a criminal investigation,’ he said.
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