'Rescuers' of whale hurt effort to help the mammal
By Suzanne Wentley
28th May 2003
The pygmy sperm whale that beached itself on Hutchinson Island will come ashore again and might not survive, a scientist said.
HUTCHINSON ISLAND — A pygmy sperm whale stranded itself on the beach near Shuckers Restaurant on Tuesday, before a group of well-intended passers-by pushed the sick animal back into the ocean.
Stephen McCulloch, director of Dolphin Research with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution who responded to the stranding, said he wished residents would know not to touch a stranded mammal.
"He will only re-strand later and we may not be able to get to him," McCulloch said. "They didn't mean to, but they've complicated the matter greatly."
Pygmy sperm whale strandings have increased dramatically this year, and state scientists are still trying to determine whether the number of sick whales warrants state funding for further study.
McCulloch said Harbor Branch scientists have responded to at least a dozen strandings this year, when on average there are only six strandings a year on the central East Coast.
Another pygmy sperm whale stranded itself and died in Vero Beach on May 21, said Greg Bossart, director of the marine mammal research and conservation division with Harbor Branch.
In June, Harbor Branch scientists will meet with experts from the Mote Marine Laboratory in the Keys to study a heart disease that is prevalent in the stranded animals.