A dwarf sperm whale that beached itself last week in Tarpon Springs died as the result of a gunshot wound, officials said Thursday. The 6-foot, 200-pound whale was rescued May 30 by Tarpon Springs police and biologists and technicians from the Clearwater Marine Science Center, but it died the next morning.
A necropsy showed that the whale died from salt poisoning and dehydration, brought on by a lowered resistance to infection resulting from the gunshot, said Bill Goldston, a veterinarian and marine mammal consultant for the National Marine Fisheries Service. The bullet hit the whale's left side and passed through the body.
The bullet did not hit any vital organs or bones, said Jeffrey Brown of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is investigating the case.
"But here's a good case of not needing to hit a vital organ to eventually kill an animal," he said.
Because dwarf whales are difficult to find in the deep water they inhabit, most information researchers have about them comes from strandings. Brown said the head and tissue samples from the whale will be sent to its center in Miami, once the investigation is complete, for research.
Shooting a whale is a felony under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, Brown said.
_ TARA BIXLER
Anyone with knowledge of the whale's shooting is asked to call National Marine Fisheries Service at 893-3145.