PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. (WKRG) — A rare Blainville’s beaked whale was found stranded on Pensacola Beach on Monday, Jan. 16.

Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge transported the whale to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Marine Mammal Research Center, where they were able to complete a necropsy, where they found several pieces of plastic in the whale’s stomach, healed rib fractures and possible signs of disease.

“The last beaked whale that washed ashore in the Pensacola area was a Gervais’ beaked whale in 2019,” Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Stranding Coordinator Kennady Brinley said. “This is a different species than that stranding, so we had a lot to learn from this case, and performing an in-depth necropsy is a really important step in that process.”

The wildlife refuse said it is uncertain if the ingested plastic debris contributed to the stranding, but the findings highlight that “plastic pollution is pervasive and can affect even these rare, deep-diving whales.”

“The necropsy took our team approximately eight hours, during which we carefully inspected every part of the animal for signs of disease, trauma, or other abnormalities,” the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network’s Stranding Coordinator Mackenzie Russell, who operates with DISL’s MMRC, said.

The necropsy of this whale took place at DISL’s MMRC on Tuesday, January 17 with assistance from GulfWorld Marine Institute, the University of South Alabama, and the Mississippi Aquarium. The whale was 3.94 meters (13 feet) long and weighed nearly 1,600 lbs.

The team took hundreds of samples, which will be sent out for analysis to assist in determining the cause of death. The refuge said this could take weeks to months but will allow researchers to better understand threats to this rare species in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Blainville’s beaked whales are found throughout the northern Gulf of Mexico and inhabit very deep water, often diving more than 900 meters (3,000 feet) and holding their breath for more than an hour. These deep-diving marine mammals can grow to 20 feet long, and males have a single tusk-like tooth on either side of their lower jaws.

The refuge said it is rare for this species to strand in the Florida panhandle, with the last documented stranding in Cape San Blas, Florida in 2014. They said there may be as few as 98 individuals living in the oceanic waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico, and the species is not listed as threatened or endangered due to insufficient population data.

If you find a sick, injured, or deceased marine mammal in the Southeast US, call 1-877-WHALE-HELP (942-5343) as soon as possible.