A young sperm whale that eluded marine officials Tuesday near Biscayne Bay was spotted Thursday in the Hillsboro Inlet, leading to a multi-agency search before it headed out into open waters, the Coast Guard reported.
Scott Thomas, a mate on the Bolo Sport Fishing boat, which operates out of the Hillsboro Inlet, said his charter was returning from a six-hour trip early Thursday afternoon when a nearby boater radioed them about the whale being in the inlet.
Someone from that nearby boat was in the water near the whale when Thomas saw it, he said.
“We almost thought it was a manatee at first, but it turned out to be a whale,” said Thomas, indicating the whale was just inside the mouth of the inlet off Pompano Beach at the time.
“It was manatee size; that was the thing about it. We saw it come up and surface just like a manatee.”
The Coast Guard and Broward Sheriff’s Office conducted a search after receiving a report just before 2 p.m. that the whale had left the inlet and was heading south, Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Ameen said.
Officials called off the search a few hours later when another boater reported seeing the whale heading out to open waters, he said.
Officials think the whale was the same in the three sightings because of its size and cut marks near its head, apparently injuries from boat propellers, Ameen said.
The calf, which is about 10 to 12 feet long, was first seen Tuesday in a marina near Biscayne Bay.
When officials tried to sedate the whale near the marina, it moved away from them and out of reach.
All day Wednesday officials from the Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were on the lookout for the whale. There was no news until Thursday’s sighting off Pompano Beach.
Erin Fougeres, a marine mammal biologist for NOAA, was concerned after the latest sighting because the calf appeared thin -- as if it had been separated from its mother for some time.
“The most important thing right now is to keep boaters and helicopters away from it so it doesn’t experience any more stress,” Fougeres said.
“It may try and strand itself on the beach. If it does, we have a team on standby to deal with that.”
That concern seems to have passed, unless the whale makes another change of direction.