Federal officials are on the lookout for two swimmers who rode a dying whale in Florida. Witnesses saw two people climb on top of a sperm whale that later died and the swimmers could face a misdemeanor conviction for harassing the animal.
A Florida resident noticed two men riding on the back of the sperm whale on Sunday morning. The resident even caught them on camera. A few hours later, the whale was dead.
The whale was likely already dying when the swimmers decided to ride it, but their actions probably didn't help the creature and harassing a marine mammal is a crime in itself. Those caught breaking the law could face up to a year in jail and a fine up to $100,000.
"This whale was likely ill or injured and that is why it came in so close to shore,' Blair Mase, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's southeast regional stranding coordinator told NBC. "This type of harassment could have caused more harm and added stress to an already stressed whale and ultimately caused its demise," Mase continued.
Witnesses saw the whale struggling to get closer to shore as the current tried to pull it back out. Margie Casey, a Pompano Beach resident then saw the swimmers trying to get on top of the animal. She took photos of the men.
Members of marine mammal rescue team, the Broward Sheriff's Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission responded to the scene to watch over the animal and make sure it was not harmed any further.
"There's really very little you can do for a whale if he gets seriously ill or injured and my wife Barbara she's out there, sticking her head in the water trying to see what's going on," Dr Stefan Harzen of the Taras Oceanographic Foundation told NBC.
The whale later died. After its body washed ashore on Monday, it was towed out to sea so the public would not have to see it and so scientists can perform a necropsy to find of how the animal died.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would have to assist the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to turn this into a criminal investigation.
Investigators are interested in finding the swimmers. If you have any information about the swimmers, call the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hotline at 800-856-1964.
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