TIERRA VERDE, Fla. (FOX 13) - Only in Florida would you see the body of a huge whale on a tractor-trailer, but it's all in the name of science. The 23,000-pound carcass was trucked from the Everglades to Pinellas County and buried at Fort De Soto Park.
The whale was found dead, so they brought it to Fort De Soto to bury it and await further study.
“It’s amazing that it’s a large whale and it could be a species that we’ve never known before,” said Dr. Erin Fougeres with NOAA Fisheries. “And it would be, if listed, perhaps the most endangered large whale in the world. As many as 100 and as few as 44 [remain in the wild]."
The whale is native to the Gulf of Mexico and is a cousin to the Brydes (pronounced broo-dees) whale featured in a National Geographic documentary. They filter in fish as their food.
Before this one was buried, scientists performed a necropsy -- like a human autopsy -- and they found it had ingested a 3-inch-by-3-inch piece of plastic. That could be its cause of death.
“It’s really important that we learn about the threats these animals are facing,” Dr. Fougeres said.
In 2009, a similar Brydes whale washed ashore at Fort De Soto. It had been struck by a ship.
At the time, they didn't know it could be a separate species.
Two years ago, scientists began asking that the gulf Brydes whale is designated as an endangered species. They're still awaiting a decision.
“In the spring, scientists from the Smithsonian will come here to Fort De Soto to dig up the whale’s remains. They'll preserve its skeleton,” Dr. Fougeres added.
Scientists hope they can be saved, but if the rare whales continue to die, the secrets of the species are buried in the Bay Area.