An injured pygmy sperm whale and her calf were euthanised by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) this past weekend, following a stranding on a beach in Jacksonville, Florida.

Volunteers for the FWC's Marine Mammal Response were alerted to the scene on Sunday morning following calls from passersby who had witnessed the injured animal and her calf stranded on a local beach. Mark Johnson, a cyclist who was in the area, first noticed the whale thrashing in the water. In an interview following the incident, he describes witnessing a commotion and a lot of blood.

Shortly after the dramatic scene in the water, both the female and her newborn calf stranded themselves on shore. FWC officials suspect that a shark may have bitten the adult female shortly after she gave birth that morning, driving the whale to beach herself in an attempt to escape. The newborn calf is believed to have followed its mother to shore, where it too got stranded.

Pygmy sperm whales (Kogia breviceps) are normally found at depths of 400-600m (1310 – 1970ft), so it is unusual to find one of these animals so close to the shoreline. Predatory threats are not the only reasons why a whale might beach itself; difficulty giving birth, military sonar activities, as well as health and digestive issues could all cause a whale to strand.

The experience is often very stressful for the animal. A video taken at the scene shows the female lashing out and flailing on the sand while volunteers try their best to treat her.

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After examining the female’s injuries and giving consideration to all options available, authorities made the call to euthanise both whales. Cheyanne Rubin of the FWC explained that it would not be in the animals’ best interests to put them back in the water. She also added that pygmy sperm whales are solitary animals, and are not suited to life in captivity.

It's hoped that something positive may come from the whales' deaths however, as necropsy results could help scientists learn more about the reasons behind the phenomenon of cetacean stranding.

Header image: Eve Fraser-Corp/Flickr