Frenzy of hungry sharks turns 28-foot dead whale into a buffet off Georgia coast

A pack of hungry sharks thwarted plans by Florida biologists to study a year-old humpback whale that was found dead off the coast of Georgia last month.

The sharks, some more than 12-feet long, turned the carcass into a bloody buffet of epic proportions, officials said.

"In less than five days, sharks had reduced a 28-foot-long whale to mere scraps," says a statement from Georgia Wildlife.

A video released by Georgia Wildlife documents the quick work sharks made of the body, which was first spotted the final week of February. Researchers had hoped to tow it to shore for a necropsy.

"Ten or more sharks were feeding on it, including a large white shark approximately 12 feet long," researchers say in the video.

The carcass was discovered during a flyover 26 miles east of Cumberland Island, Georgia. It was considered freshly dead on Feb. 24 and biologists from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission returned later that day and attached a tracking satellite buoy to it.

Photographs of the carcass confirmed it was the same year-old whale that was seen in skinny and sickly condition several times off the coast off of Georgia and Florida this winter, officials said. "In fact, it was seen alive just four days prior," says the video.

On Feb. 25, a whale survey team spotted the carcass a second time, and it was trailed by a long slick of blood and oil. Sharks were actively feeding on it at the time.

Crews with cameras on poles returned the following day to a much smaller carcass, and attempted to find out how the whale died. However, the whale was so badly scavenged that the cause of death was impossible to determine, researchers said.

Two days later, on Feb. 28, all that remained was two flippers and some blubber, which sharks were continuing to scavenge. On March 1, the satellite tracker stopped transmitting when the last of the remains sank to the bottom, officials believe.

"In this case, the sharks got to it so quickly, that (made a shore-side necropsy) impossible," Georgia state biologist Clay George told the Brunswick News in Georgia. "We were all keen to find out what happened to it or other whales, especially if there’s a human cause suspected."

Mark Price, 704 358-5149, @markprice_obs