Pilot whale found dead off Siesta Key

- Researchers and police fought the waves on Siesta Key Beach pull a dead pilot whale from the water Friday.

Reeling in his line, fisherman Bill Hankins pulled up to help. 

"I was out tarpon fishing and I saw the police boat," said Bill Hankins.

Sarasota Police Department Sergeant Bruce King towed the 12-15ft. male pilot whale to Mote Marine Laboratory where researchers waited.

"It was a little tricky. Being myself on the boat it couldn't have been in a worse position honestly because it's shallow and it's rocky," Sgt. King said.

Pilot whales aren't often seen near the coast because they make their home in much deeper water.

"It's rare. We typically don't see just one. In my nearly 20 years of doing this, we've only had two that have stranded alone," said marine investigator Gretchen Lovewell.

She studies strandings and said this case is concerning.

"We are in high alert right now to make sure there aren't other animals out there about to hit our beaches," she explained.

Scientists with Mote Marine are performing a necropsy on site. They're hoping to learn specific details about the whale, including its age and what caused it to die. Some of the test results could take months to come back. So for now, they're hoping to collect as much information as they can up front.

"It could have been a sickly animal that got separated from the herd. We've had a lot of crazy weather out there. It could be a number of things," said Lovewell. "To actually be able to get them, examine the inside and take all the host of samples that we do is very valuable." 

Researchers know any piece of information they learn could help prevent future strandings.

Mote Marine Laboratory's Stranding Investigations Program responds 24 hours a day, seven days a week to reports of sick, injured and dead marine mammals and sea turtles for animals in Sarasota and Manatee County waters. Live animals are brought back to Mote's Dolphin and Whale Hospital or Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital for treatment and the deceased animals undergo a detailed post-mortem examination so we may learn more about the animals' natural history and evaluate long-term trends in mortality.

Within Sarasota or Manatee county waters, if you see a stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle, please call Mote's Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at -941-988-0212. Anyone outside of those counties should call Florida Fish and Wildlife at 1-888-404-3922.

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