|This nine foot, 600 pound Pygmy Sperm Whale is a rare sighting in Belize.
|Gerald Leslie, whilst out fishing, felt his line snag and when he pulled it closer to the boat, he saw that the creature was already injured and had his tail severed. |
In a rare occurrence, a seldom seen Pygmy Sperm Whale was discovered several miles at sea in the Ambergris Caye area. The nine foot, 600 pound adult whale was found about 4:50 p.m. on Sunday evening languishing in the surf some fifteen miles east of San Pedro Town. The mammal had bluish-black skin, a roundish head and an under-slung lower jaw that seemed too small for its body.
According to fisherman and Tropic Air pilot Gerald Leslie, whilst on his fishing escapade his fishing line got snagged on the mammal and as it was pulled closer to the boat, the creature was seen already injured and with his tail severed. The whale’s body showed signs of trauma, as large wounds and bite marks inflicted by sharks were visible. “It took me three and a half hours to pull it in and at first I was like ‘what is this?’ and I knew no one would believe me if I told them so I decided to bring in it to shore. It was the first time I have seen something like this because of all my years fishing these waters I have not seen an animal of this nature. So I towed it in and tied it on the Amigos del Mar dock, and called the people from the Hol Chan staff to come look at it,” commented Leslie. The whale was an unusual sight and it drew a large crowd at the beach to witness the finding. At the time it was said to be a ‘pilot whale’ which are amongst the most common and widely-distributed of the marine mammals in the cetacean order. However, it was later verified that it was indeed a Pygmy Sperm Whale.
The mammal was tied on to the dock as it had succumbed to its injuries. Sometime during the course of the night, “poachers” or undesirables that were on to making some extra change took the whale and dragged it on shore so as to cut off the jaw and teeth for use of trade. According to Leslie, “I got a call early in the morning saying that some people had untied and stolen the fish and made a mess on the beach. When I got there the guys had already cut it open and were in the process of removing the head and its teeth so that they could sell it. So, I figured since I brought it in, I was the one responsible for it so I took it some 12 miles at the back of the island in an undisclosed location where no one would disturb it,” he ended. In 2009, Leslie commented jokingly that he plans to publish his book, “The Blackman and the Sea”, which will include his finding of the pygmy sperm whale in a twist similar to the classic tale of “Old Man and the Sea”.
Pygmy Sperm Whales (Kogia breviceps), are usually found in small groups of three to five whales (known as pods) and when spotted they can be seen floating almost motionless with their snouts barely breaking the surface and their tails hanging down. With their snub noses and heads, they are sometimes mistaken for sharks, but feed predominantly on squid. They are slow-moving mammals most often found in temperate waters far from shore and because they avoid marine traffic they are not often sighted at sea. Most of our understanding of the creatures comes from the study of washed-up specimens and population figures are unknown. They are considered threatened but not endangered and are the least understood of all whale species.