Sunday morning, a South Florida woman spotted a whale off the coast of Pompano Beach. As she watched what she described as the whale trying to beach itself, two swimmers mounted the giant ailing mammal and attempted to ride it, according to pictures posted on Margie Casey's Twitter account.
“I just couldn’t imagine a marine biologist trying to do that," Casey, 49, told NBC Miami.
Although Casey tweeted that she thought the whale was 70 feet long, Broward County Sheriff deputies later estimated the whale was about half that size.
BSO spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright told CBS Miami it was spotted about 40 feet from shore in the 600 block of North Ocean Boulevard.
After two members of the Marine Animal Rescue Society were dispatched to the scene, one swam out to take a closer look to see if the animal was in distress or had already died, according to the Sun Sentinel.
A mammal scientist later confirmed to WSVN that the whale was still alive when officials arrived at the scene. "It seems to be a 30-foot whale," Stefan Harzen said, "female, with some lacerations, we're not exactly sure whether these are significant enough injuries or not. Maybe it's fallen ill due to some reasons we can not determine."
The whale died not long after authorities arrived. The rescuers guided its body back out to sea and investigators are looking into whether those that tried to mount the whale had anything to do with its death.
"This whale was likely ill or injured and that is why it came in so close to shore," Blair Mase Mase, NOAA's southeast regional stranding coordinator, told NBC Miami. "This type of harassment could have caused more harm and added stress to an already stressed whale and ultimately caused its demise."
Harassing a marine mammal is a federal offense. In November, a St. Petersburg woman was arrested for riding a manatee.
UPDATE: Monday morning, the carcass of a 40-foot sperm whale drifted into the International Fishing Pier in Deerfield Beach, according to the Sun Sentinel. It is believed to be the same whale seen offshore in Pompano Beach.