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Beached whale, already near death, is euthanized with 6-foot needle

Endangered SpeciesEnvironmental IssuesTampaConservation

A beached whale that stranded itself off the coast near Tampa, Fla., early Thursday was euthanized later in the day, but not before attracting hundreds of onlookers.

The 30-foot sperm whale was about 20 feet offshore and near death already,  the Associated Press reported.

The whale, a deep-water species that has no business coming close to shore, was already skin and bones and didn't move significantly in the time it was observed, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman told the AP.

In the early afternoon, a strong sedative was administered to the animal and then a six-foot needle was plunged into its chest cavity and a drug was injected to stop its heart, according to WTSP Channel 10 News.

"It's horrible, really. I'm an animal lover and it's just so sad," Sue Sciara of Chicago, who was among those gathered on the beach, told the station.

A marine biologist told the station that although the needle was "large and scary," the procedure was actually humane and had been used before on large whales.

Also, in somewhat historical beached-whale news, George Thomas Thornton, the man who in 1970 blew up a 45-foot whale carcass on an Oregon beach, reportedly died Sunday at age 84.

Thornton, who worked for the state's transportation department at the time and was charged with removing the stinking carcass from the beach, opted after consultations with munitions experts to use a half-ton of dynamite on the whale, with the idea of blowing it in little bits out to sea, the AP reported. Other less dramatic methods such as burial and burning had been ruled out.

Problem was, the whale didn't disintegrate into small pieces as planned but rather sent huge pieces of the carcass flying all over the beach and out to a crowd of about 75 media members and other onlookers who'd gathered about a quarter-mile away to see it happen. One chunk reportedly landed on a parked car, doing serious damage to the vehicle.

The ultimate result? TV news videos that may have been among the first to qualify as viral.

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