An endangered sperm whale drifting off a South Florida beach has died following a report that two swimmers were seen standing atop it.
A Pompano Beach resident reported she saw the whale alive earlier in the day on Sunday and that the swimmers were standing on the dying animal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"This whale was likely ill or injured and that is why it came in so close to shore," Blair Mase, NOAA’s southeast regional stranding coordinator, told a South Florida NBC affiliate. "This type of harassment could have caused more harm and added stress to an already stressed whale and ultimately caused its demise."
It is unclear whether the swimmers played a role in the whale's death, but harassing a marine animal is a federal offense. Officials are investigating the mammal's death.
"It seems to be a 30-foot whale," said Marine Mammal Scientist, Stefan Harzen, who responded to the scene. "It was still alive when we got here. The whale was female, with some lacerations, we're not exactly sure whether these are significant enough injuries or not. Maybe it's fallen ill due to some reasons we cannot determine."
The witness, Margie Casey, 49, said she watched the swimmers from her 5th-floor balcony, and snapped photos of one swimmer getting on the whale. At the time, the animal was drifting north along the shore, and she said the whale was flapping its tail, so she thought it was alive. It might have been on its "last leg," though, she said.
Around noon, residents reported that the whale was 40 feet from the shore, spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said.
A marine mammal rescue team, the Broward County Sheriff's Office, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission responded, the NBC affiliate reported.
Beachgoer Ken Smith was amazed when he saw the animal on the shore, he told local television station WSVN.
"I'm on the beach a lot," Smith said, "and I've never seen a whale this close to the shore."
Another onlooker said many people were worried.
"I guess everybody's concerned about the health of the whale," said an onlooker, "and everybody's trying to save it."
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