Advertisement
  1. News

Largo woman, rescuers save beached whale on Indian Shores

Largo resident Bonnie Charity works with Jason McCarty of Jamestown, Indiana, to stabilize a melon-headed whale that was found stranded on the shore an Indian Shores around 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning. Members of Clearwater Marine Aquariums stranding team is en route to evaluate the animal. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Largo resident Bonnie Charity works with Jason McCarty of Jamestown, Indiana, to stabilize a melon-headed whale that was found stranded on the shore an Indian Shores around 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning. Members of Clearwater Marine Aquariums stranding team is en route to evaluate the animal. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Jul. 20, 2018

Times Staff Writer

INDIAN SHORES — The sun had yet to rise. A strong breeze from the Gulf of Mexico cooled the otherwise warm and muggy Indian Shores beach. The surf was choppy Friday morning as Bonnie Charity began her daily walk, unlike some days when it's still and smooth as glass.

It was just after 6 a.m. She was picking up trash along the beach as does every morning. After dragging a gas can from the surf to a trash can, she headed back to the water to drag up what she thought was a forlorn palm frond.

That's when she found the whale.

"When I saw it, I thought it was just a big huge palm frond in the water and I was going to drag it up," Charity said. "I couldn't tell what it was until I got right up in it."

That's when the 61-year-old Largo resident and another passerby, Jason McCarty, sprung into action.

"Okay baby, we have help coming," she told the whale, trying to comfort it as it writhed and squealed among the shallow surf, stuck in soft sand beneath a few inches of incoming tide. "We've got help coming, poor thing."

Patrols from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium were nearby, but couldn't help. They'd had to wait for a rescue biologist, a sort of first responder for sea life, to show up. It was up to Charity and McCarty to keep the 8-foot long whale stable.

"The priority is to keep them calm, get their face out of the water and keep their blowhole clear," said Kerry Sanchez, a rescue biologist with Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Rescuers from @CMAquarium are now on scene at Indian Shores rescuing what is currently believed to be a melon-headed whale. @TB_Times @cliftimestweet pic.twitter.com/HYnpjhxrG6

Sanchez arrived just before 7:30 a.m. Charity and McCarty had been sitting in the surf, calming and cradling the whale for more than an hour.

They continued to help as Sanchez was able to communicate with National Marine Fishery Services and veterinarians to determine the whale's condition, deciding it would need to be transported for rehabilitation. She was also able to help identify it as an adult male Melon-Headed Whale, a species native to the Gulf that prefers deeper waters. Unlike the bottle-nosed dolphins usually found in the area, finding a Melon-Headed Whale this close to a beach is rare, Sanchez said. She said it's the third Melon-Headed Whale to wash up on a Pinellas County beach in the past two years.

"They're not super well known," she said. "We just don't see them a lot."

While she was wading and waiting with the whale, Charity named him Sandy.

"I was so worried about him. I couldn't even get excited until I was driving home," Charity said. "I just wanted him to live. But it was probably one of the top five things in my life. It was amazing now that I think about it."

Crews were able to get Sandy off the beach after 10 a.m. Sanchez said he's now headed for rehabilitation at a SeaWorld Orlando facility.

Michelle Kerr, of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said people should never push beached animals back into the water and should always be cautious around wildlife.

"Stranded marine mammals can be sick or injured, and may be capable of powerful and unpredictable moves," Kerr said. "Pushing an animal back to sea delays, and may hinder, the chance for experienced rescue teams to assess and provide treatment if necessary — and in some cases may cause injury or death of an animal."

Anyone who finds a stranded animal on shore is asked to contact FWC's wildlife alert hotline at (888) 404-3922.

Charity was a little banged up and a little cramped when she got back to the Largo condo she's shared with her husband since they moved from Syracuse, N.Y., five years ago. She had to cut her daily 4-mile walk a little short Friday, but that's okay.

"How lucky am I to have experienced that," she said. "Wow. That was well worth it."

Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at dfigueroa@tampabay.com. Follow @danuscripts.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Jesse Michael Chester, 40, was arrested on 20 counts of possession of child pornography and two counts of video voyeurism, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    A child porn investigation led to secretly recorded videos of adults using the bathroom, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  2. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, left, and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody were appointed to the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice by Attorney General Bob Barr. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody will also join a commission that will “explore modern issues affecting law enforcement," according to the Department of Justice.
  3. Clockwise from left: Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake Bites, Piña Colada Candy Apple, Candy Corn and Cheeseburger-On-A-Stick [Courtesy of the Florida State Fair]
    Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake Bites, Piña Colada Candy Apples and more are coming to the Florida State Fair.
  4. Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy Alton Smith helps recover items Wednesday from Lake Twitt in Odessa during a dive team practice. Divers used the drill to search for evidence of a forgotten African American cemetery nearby. [CHRIS URSO   |  Times]
    Keystone Memorial Cemetery was established by a freed slave and disappeared in the 1950s. The dive team chose Lake Twitt to do its monthly practice.
  5. In this Aug. 28, 2013, file photo, Joseph Maldonado answers a question during an interview at the zoo he runs in Wynnewood, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File) [SUE OGROCKI  |  AP]
    A federal judge sentenced Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage to 22 years in prison for trying to arrange the killing of Carole Baskin.
  6. St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway, left, and U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announce the creation of the regional Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A six-county task force from Hernando to Polk to Sarasota will band together thanks to a $742,000 Justice Department grant.
  7. In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday. (Senate Television via AP) [AP]
    After late-night deliberations over the rules almost ensured no new witnesses will be heard, the trial picked up speed
  8. More than 44 percent of people who searched on ApartmentList.com for the Tampa Bay area from June to December were outside the region, according to a report from Apartment List. Percentages in the “Top Three Sources” box represent the share of searches coming from outside the metro area. (Apartment List map) [Apartment List]
    The region trails only Denver, Baltimore and San Diego for the percentage of people from outside the area searching for apartments on Apartment List.
  9. To accommodate the swelling numbers of aging baby boomers, experts say we will need to make transportation more readily available, build more affordable housing, modify homes and apartments to help seniors age in place, and create programs to bring young and old people together. [Times (2011)]
    “There’s never been a time like this,” one expert says. Solutions include more health aides, taming long-term care costs and just healthier living.
  10. The northbound lanes of I-275 were closed for more than four hours early Tuesday morning as troopers investigated a deadly crash. [Florida Highway Patrol]
    Police pulled over their vehicle for driving the wrong way on Fifth Avenue S, but the driver took off and crashed shortly after.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement