Madeira Beach, Florida - Hundreds of people gathered on Madeira Beach to marvel and to see a 30-foot sperm whale just a wade away.
"It is really interesting and it's a once in a life time thing to see," said Shelly Crain of Clearwater. She even pulled her 14-year-old daughter out of school and into this sandy science classroom.
"I really wanted to see it," said Sarah Crain. "I want to be a marine biologist."
Calls about the beached whale started coming into wildlife officials about 7:15 Thursday morning.
Sperm whales are normally a deep-water species, so to see one this close to shore immediately indicates something is wrong. And scientists described this whale as being emaciated.
"It's obviously very thin and sick, but I can't really speak to what's going on inside the whale," said Erin Fougeres, a NOAA Marine Mammal Biologist.
So while the curious crowd swelled, this quickly became a somber vigil. With no chance for the whale to survive on its own, wildlife officials began planning how to humanely end its life.
"It's horrible, really. I'm an animal lover and it's just so sad," said Sue Sciara of Chicago, her voice breaking with emotion.
About 2 p.m. a veterinarian for the University of Florida gave the whale a shot of a strong sedative and what came next was a bit difficult to watch: a biologist plunged a six-foot needle into the whale's chest cavity and a drug injected to stop its heart.
"Although it looks large and scary, it is a very humane thing to do," said Fougeres, adding that the technique has been used many times before on large whales.
By late afternoon, a boat was towing away the whale's carcass. Scientists intend to perform a necropsy on Friday. And for those watching the events of the day, knowledge for the future helps soften the sadness.
"That's the only thing that you can really pull from something like this," said Ayesha Meyer-Dhillon, "Testing, find out what's wrong and then hopefully find a cure."
This is not the first time a sperm whale appeared in and around the waters of Tampa Bay. One was seen swimming near Treasure Island in late 2007. In that instance, the whale was unable to swim in a straight line and also had to be euthanized.
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