(November 26, 2020) --
There are many reasons why euthanasia was the best and most humane option for this animal. Below is an explanation courtesy of ALMMSN and NOAA.
The decision to euthanize is made by a team of biologists including staff from the NOAA NMFS Southeast Region and the veterinarians on scene. Euthanasia is by no means an easy option. It is physically and emotionally demanding. For biologists who spend their lives studying and working toward the conservation of these majestic animals, there are no easy options when a marine mammal strands. In all cases, we try to do what is right for the animal with the consideration of the safety of our team.
1. The animal was already in poor condition when it stranded, making survival highly unlikely for any marine mammal, but particularly problematic for large whales such as this one (>30 feet long, as much as 30,000 lbs) due to exposure and other stresses.
2. The animal is very far from its natural range, which is in waters > 200 meters deep at least 60+ miles offshore (likely more than 100 miles from where it stranded farthest north in Mobile Bay, near Montrose). This means that the animal was already showing an inability to orient itself over any of that distance.
3. The animal had opportunities to move in the bay during the subsequent week but restranded multiple times, further indicating a poor prognosis.
4. Trying to pull or push a whale of this massive size to open ocean can cause serious internal injury (dislocating bones, damaging muscles), making it far more painful and harmful than helpful, and the animal would likely restrand in any case (due to the original cause of illness or injury, if it survived the relocation). In very few cases have large whales been successfully relocated. According to NOAA, to their knowledge, no one in the country has been able to successfully free-float and release a stranded sperm whale.
5. It is difficult to impossible to get any type of towing device onto a live animal this size, a vessel to safely and feasibly move it 100 miles offshore, and remove any towing gear to avoid entanglement, making relocation essentially infeasible.
6. There are no facilities to treat or rehabilitate an animal this large even if it were in a suitable condition. The largest facilities and aquariums in the country do not have tanks suitable for the rehabilitation of a whale this size.