Jim Serpa happened to know what he was looking at when a lifeguard sent him some pictures from what washed up on San Onofre State Beach. After all, he is a former Doheny State Beach supervisor.
Todd Shanklin made the call to Serpa, of San Clemente when he was on duty at the San Diego County beach. He knew that Sherpa was the man to ask because they had shared an office in Doheny.
“Todd said he looked at the head, and it kind of reminded him of a sperm whale only different,” Serpa said Sunday according to the Daily Mail. “But when I saw the big bulbous head, the tiny dorsal fin way back on its back and the dagger teeth, I knew exactly what it was. It also had an odd blowhole that’s farther up than any other whale and slightly off-center. As I walked up to it, I knew my ID from the first photos was correct.”
The whale that washed up on shore on May 15 was almost 9 feet long. Sherpa thought that it was an incredible find because he has been fascinated by marine mammals and sharks for quite some time, especially if they are out of the ordinary.
In tropical seas and temperate waters around the world, you will find the pygmy sperm whales. They are somewhat similar to dwarf sperm whales, so sometimes it is difficult to know which one you are looking at in the field. Both species are rare and there is not much information on them.
Sherpa never had the opportunity to see a live pygmy sperm whale. The long, pointy teeth they have are used to eat squid and to keep them from getting away as they eat them.
Officials at NOAA were notified by Shanklin about the find and they took some samples of the whale. They planned on going to examine the carcass. Marine mammals of all types are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It helps to keep species from declining and seeing a reduction in their population. The specific thresholds for those species are set by NOAA.
As Sherpa inspected the body, he saw what appeared to be a bullet hole.
“I don’t know if it was pre-or post-mortem,” he said.
Entanglement in fishing lines is responsible for the Pygmy sperm whales endangerment, for the most part. Nobody really has any idea why the whale is there.
“Scientists say the Pacific is super warm right now, so maybe it just came up here in a warm patch,” he said. “Or, maybe they are here more than we know, and we don’t see them because they shy away from us.”
Sherpa feels that this is an adventure as well as an experience. He was always fascinated from the time he was young, thanks to Jock Cousteau’s underwater adventures.
“I couldn’t get enough of that underwater life,” he said. “This year marks the 50th year as a scuba diver. That blows my mind; it’s been that long. And, I’m still like a little kid every time I put on a mask and look under the water.”
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