An endangered whale filmed swimming with beachgoers near a beach in Western Australia has died after becoming stuck on a sandbar, officials said.
The older sperm whale was first seen on Saturday afternoon, and it beached itself on Monday at according to the BBC. Swimmers were seen interacting with the whale until experts warned of the danger such actions could pose to both the whale and the people.
On Tuesday morning, officials from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions said the 30-ton whale had died around 6:30 a.m. local time. Mark Cugley, a spokesman for the department, told reporters that the whale swam some distance that morning, but the whale’s breathing “gave us some signs that it was really coming to an end.”
Cugley said it is still not clear why the whale came close to shore, but said its “health was not good” and said it was exhibiting behavior such as swimming in tight circles. The whale had no injuries or obvious illness, but an autopsy will be performed once the whale is removed from the sea.
“We don’t really know why, it’s very unusual and some of the behavior we saw, even when it was first reported Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t good,” Cugley said.
After the whale died, its carcass was moved to a “safer location in the water, away from the beach,” officials from Western Australia’s Parks and Wildlife Service said in a statement on social media, and crews stayed in the area overnight to make sure people and boats stayed away from the whale. Cugley said the whale will be removed from the water and transported to a landfill by crane.
There was a watch on land on Tuesday afternoon, officials said, with a native group holding what officials called a smoking ceremony to “show respect for the cultural significance of this whale stranding.” The ceremony included “the sharing of whale dream stories, song and dance.”
“We would like to thank the traditional owners for sharing their knowledge and understanding of this event with us,” Parks and Wildlife Services officials said on social media.
Visitors to the beach are still being asked to stay out of the water. Cugley said all potential visitors to the area are watching for potential beach closures or other disruptions while they work to remove the whale, in part to minimize shark risks, the BBC reported.
Although found in all deep oceans from the equator to the Arctic and Antarctic, sperm whales are endangered in Australia and most parts of the world. Whaling decimated sperm whale populations worldwide for centuries, but since a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, the species has begun to recover and its numbers are likely increasing, according to NOAA