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NOAA Agents Continue to Study Recent Whale Incident

October 21, 2006

By Gabriel Tynes, Walton Sun, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

Oct. 21–Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the results of a necropsy on a whale that was euthanized by a Walton County Sheriff’s deputy Oct. 11 would not be available until after a pathology report and peer review could be completed in the coming weeks. The report could help determine why the pregnant dwarf sperm whale beached itself near Draper Lake, and if anything could have been done to rehabilitate the animal. Kim Amendola, a spokesperson for NOAA, said the organization would wait for the results to decide whether to press charges in the case. The dwarf sperm whale is one of many species guarded under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the deputy may not have complied with specified procedure in the MMPA in euthanizing the whale. Beachgoers noticed the distressed whale in the shallow waters near Gulfview Heights just before sunset. Several people attempted to resuscitate the whale, only to succeed in having it swim out to the first sandbar before returning to the shore. Officials from the Walton County Sheriff’s Office and the Tourist Development Council were notified of the incident and were dispatched to scene. A press release issued by Lt. Bryan Maule, public information officer at the Sheriff’s Office, the following day said once deputies arrived they confirmed there was an animal on shore that appeared to either have been bitten by sharks or shot while at sea. According to Maule, dispatchers made several failed attempts to contact various agencies with animal expertise. The National Marine Fisheries Service responded at 6:28 p.m. and informed the deputies they were on their way but it would take approximately 60 to 90 minutes to arrive. Meanwhile, noting the excess blood loss, Maule said the deputies cleared the water and shoreline of all bystanders to prevent a shark attack. During this time, Maule said, “the animal was flailing around and appeared to be in pain.” At 6:52 p.m., a deputy made the decision to fire shots into the whale and euthanize it. The National Marine Fisheries Service arrived around 8:30 p.m. and transported the whale to Panama City. Keen Polakoff and his wife Kimberly, both Santa Rosa Beach residents who witnessed the incident, said although the whale was acting unusual, he believed it was in no immediate danger of dying. Polakoff said he felt the officers acted in what they felt was the best interest of the animal, but did so out of “complete ignorance.” The marine officials who responded to the call initially identified the animal as a pygmy sperm whale, but later revised their evaluation to classify it as a dwarf sperm whale, which has slight differences but is equally reclusive and protected.

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Copyright (c) 2006, Walton Sun, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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