The orca, which was 21ft in length and weighed over 6,000 pounds, had no obvious signs of trauma after it became stranded on Florida’s Atlantic coast. The majestic apex predator was washed ashore in Flagler County as shocked beachgoers made the most of the warm weather.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office shared a video of the mammal which was three-quarters the length of a London bus.
The video showed the mammal washed ashore and unresponsive as waves crashed over its body.
Reports came in to the Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday morning of the beached animal near Jungle Hut Park in Palm Coast, just 60 miles south of Jacksonville.
By the time they arrived, the mammal was already close to death and the Sheriff’s Office reported the whale died by 9am (2pm GMT).
By 4pm, the orca had been removed from the beach and people could once again use the area.
Speaking to CNN, Erin Fougeres, the Marine Mammal Stranding Programme administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Southeast Region, explained that they will investigate the carcass.
Ms Fouferes said: “This is the first killer whale stranding in the Southeast US, so there’s a lot of interest, obviously, in trying to sample it extensively and try to determine why it might have been sick and why it stranded.”
Law enforcement officials warned beachgoers on Wednesday to avoid the area 30 miles north of Daytona Beach and also closed a road leading to the area as people gathered to catch a glimpse of the orca.
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According to Ms Fougeres, the cetacean will be taken to a research lab for a necropsy, the animal version of an autopsy.
It is expected to take weeks or even months to conclude why the killer whale ended up beaching itself.
She said: “We have veterinarians and very skilled biologists and pathologists who will be on scene to conduct the necropsy of the animal.
“They’ll open up the whale and they’ll go through every organ system and look to observe if there’s any gross lesions, anything obviously wrong with the different organ systems, and they’ll take extensive samples from the whale, which will then send out to a lab, or multiple labs for analysis.”
According to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute has sent out crews alongside the Flagler County government in order to move the whale.
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Speaking to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ms Fougeres spoke of the rarity of such an incident which has been dubbed the first of its kind on the US southeast coast.
She said: “We really don’t know much about them, and in US waters, they’re characterised as uncommon or rare.”
The NOAA stated that approximately 50,000 killer whales live in all of the world’s oceans, with the most studied population in the northeast Pacific Ocean.
Ms Fougeres added: “We are eager to learn as much as we can about this whale and about the species.”