Dead right whale washes ashore on Flagler Beach

Published On: Dec 19 2012 10:39:22 AM EST   Updated On: Dec 20 2012 07:45:15 AM EST
FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. -

A 30-foot-long dead North Atlantic right whale washed ashore in Flagler Beach on Wednesday morning.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission alerted the Flagler County Sheriff's Office about the whale at about 9:30 a.m.

The whale, which is estimated to weigh about 30,000 pounds, washed up onshore near Driftway Terrace. It had fishing gear wrapped around its tail, but that's not necessarily what caused it to die. Often times right whales are killed when they are hit or run over by ships.

IMAGES: Dead right whale washes ashore

The FWC will perform a necropsy to try to determine the whale's cause of death. It was only about a year old, officials said.

Members of NOAA Fisheries and FWC worked to secure the whale. They tied a line to it's pectoral fin and anchored the line to the beach.

"It's kind of an incredible sight. I've never actually seen a whale in person," Flagler Beach resident Luke Cantero said.

Workers had to determine if they could perform a necropsy on the beach because they worry about ripping up protected vegetation. A leading expert in right whales was coming down from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to perform the necropsy, which will likely take place in the morning.

Workers will then likely use heavy machinery to bury the whale on the beach and let nature run it's course.

A sailboat captain called in the whale floating a few miles offshore Tuesday, but before experts could get a boat out to it, it beached itself, officials said. They said knowing that in advance, however, allowed them to get ready for Wednesday's work.

"Make sure the knives are sharpened, the coolers are ready, and so we were able to do a lot of that work last night. People began making travel arrangements," fishery biologist Barb Zoodsma said.

There are only about 300-400 northern right whales left, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. December to March is their calving season, when they migrate south to give birth to their babies.

"We need to know, is there something we can be doing differently to better protect this animal and help it recover to the numbers and grow the population, essentially?" Zoodsma said.

The whales are an endangered species, and even Navy ships have to steer clear of them.

The last time a dead one washed up in northeast Florida area was in 2005 at Little Talbot Island. Since then, two adults have been found dead in nearby coastal waters. One was found dead in 2006 off Camden County, Ga., after being hit by a vessel. The other was found dead in 2011 off St Johns County.