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    Whale eased out of shallow waters

    Rescuers spend five hours guiding the 23-foot sperm whale toward deeper waters off Sand Key after it was stranded.

    By Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000

    CLEARWATER -- A 23-foot juvenile sperm whale was stranded in the shallow waters of the Intracoastal Waterway near Sand Key Saturday morning. Five hours later, guided by the Coast Guard, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the whale swam to deeper water in the Gulf of Mexico.

    The rescue began about 9:30 a.m., when the Coast Guard received a report about the whale. At 3,000 to 4,000 pounds, it was visible from Shephard's Restaurant on Clearwater Beach. Sperm whales are deep-water mammals that may surface for more than an hour.

    The whale swam through Clearwater Pass and got caught in shallow water in the Intracoastal. As the tide came in after noon, the whale started swimming again toward deeper water.

    "It was a slow process," said Scott Swaim, spokesman for the aquarium. "She'd go a little bit and then stop and go back."

    Aquarium staff estimated that at 23 feet, the whale was younger than 2 years old. At birth, sperm whales are 18 feet and they grow to 60 feet as adults. It was unusual that the whale's mother was nowhere in sight, Swaim said, because they typically stay with their calves for two years.

    The whale didn't appear to be injured, but it had nicks and cuts on it from brushing against the pylons under the Sand Key bridge. Officials last saw the whale about 4 miles off Clearwater Pass heading southwest.

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