Killer whale found dead on Florida beach showed 'signs of illness,' expert says

Experts say a 21-foot female killer whale that stranded itself on a Flagler County beach and died on Wednesday was possibly sick. 

Allison Garrett, Communications Specialist with NOAA Fisheries, told FOX 35 in a statement that the orca was an older female "with signs of illness." She said they are still waiting for lab work to come back to learn the official cause of death. 

The Flagler County Sheriff's Office posted heartbreaking video and photos of the orca after it was found beached on the shore south of Jungle Hut Park in Palm Coast.

"This is extremely rare," said Blair Mase with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "We've never had a record of a stranded killer whale in Florida or the Southeast United States."

Officials used construction machinery to move the whale out of the water and away from the beach where a necropsy could be performed. Several agencies assisted, including Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Flagler County government departments.

RELATED: Killer whale found dead on Florida beach a first for Southeast, NOAA spokesperson says

According to SeaWorld, while killer whales can be found around the world, they are much more common in highly productive areas of cold-water upwelling including the Pacific Northwest, along northern Norway's coast in the Atlantic, and the higher latitudes of the Southern Ocean. In addition to being found in colder water, killer whales also have been seen in warm water areas such as Florida.

Dr. Erin Fougeres, NOAA Stranding Program Administrator, spoke to FOX 35 and said there are several factors that can make orcas sick, including contaminants and prey shortages.

"But for this particular individual there's also natural diseases and things like that, and that's really what we're trying to get out of the necropsy."

The whale was brought to SeaWorld for the necropsy where tissue samples were taken. Those were sent out to labs and results could take weeks to months to come back.