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What killed sperm whale found in Gulf by NOAA ship?

WASHINGTON — A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship has discovered the first dead sperm whale since the April 22 BP oil blowout, but scientists said the whale was too badly decomposed to be able to determine whether oil was the cause of its death.

The whale's body was found Tuesday 77 miles south of the spill by the ship Pisces, NOAA said in a statement late Wednesday night. Researchers still were trying to determine whether it drifted after death from oil-contaminated waters.

Scientists estimated the whale had not yet reached its adult size. Analysis of samples from its carcass would take several weeks, NOAA said.

Even though the whale's exact cause of death might not be known, the NOAA statement said it's clear that the oil spill is a hazard to sperm whales, the only species of endangered whale that live in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Sperm whales live in deep water where there are layers of subsurface dispersants and oil, and they feed on squid, which also could be contaminated by the oil and chemical dispersants.

The NOAA ship Gordon Gunter is on a research cruise in the Gulf to study sperm whales and Bryde's whales to try to determine the effects of the spill on them.

Sperm whales can live at least 60 to 70 years. They dive hundreds or thousands of feet deep and have been known to dive for a mile or deeper and for a duration lasting more than two hours. Their prey is commonly found near the bottom of the ocean.

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