Pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata)

Age Class Adult
Gender Female
Date Stranded August 29, 2018
Location of Stranding Clearwater, Florida
Date of Arrival August 29, 2018
Number of Days of Care 9 days

Final Disposition

Thunder and another whale, Lightning, upon arrival at Mote's Dolphin, Whale and Sea Turtle Hospital


Learn about Thunder's rescue and arrival at Mote here


9/6/2018: We are sad to report that Thunder passed peacefully this morning at Mote Marine Laboratory. Thunder was very socially bonded with the other pygmy killer whale, Lightning, and we are unsure what impact Lightning’s recent passing had on Thunder: Lightning passed about 26 hour previous to Thunder.

Thunder’s body will be transported to University of Florida (UF) for advanced diagnostic imaging, before returning to Mote Marine Laboratory for necropsy. Lighting was also transported to UF, and early results from Lighting’s diagnostic imaging revealed severe sinusitis. After necropsy, both skeletons will return to Mote’s Ruth DeLynn Cetacean Osteological Collection for preservation to further advance knowledge of the pygmy killer whale species.

9/5/2018: Thunder is able to swim on her own, and continues to be monitored 24-7. Given her ability to swim, Mote staff have been able to raise the water level in the pool. Thunder continues to be treated for nasotrema parasites, infection and gastric issues. Thunder has shown less interest in food but has tolerated staff-assisted feeding. Mote staff have collected blood serum samples from Thunder, and the samples are sent to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute to test for Florida red tide toxin exposure.

9/3/2018: Thunder is able to swim on his own under the watchful eye of Mote hospital staff. Thunder has repeatedly touched pectoral fins with Lightning and made eye contact, suggesting they are socially bonded. Thunder showed no interest in feeding on her own, but were able to tolerate staff-assisted feeding of herring. Staff have presumed Thunder is a female. Sex determination in this offshore, shy species is more difficult than for other species we encounter often. 

8/31/2018: Thunder is still receiving 24/7 care and monitoring by Mote hospital staff. Thunder is currently not eating, although the whale is receiving fluid therapy and treatment for gastric issues, parasites and bacterial infection based on the latest lab work. Thunder is able to swim unsupported under the careful watch of hospital staff. 

8/30/2018: Thunder made it through his first night in critical care at Mote. Thunder was able to swim unsupported throughout the night.

8/29/2018: Thunder arrives at Mote Marine Laboratory, transported by Clearwater Marine Aquarium from its stranding location in Clearwater. Thunder is in a medical pool at Mote, being supported by Mote's hospital team. Thunder is in critical condition and animal care staff are working hard to stablize the whale. Thunder received the nickname due to arriving at Mote in the middle of a severe thunderstorm.


Critical care for just one whale costs thousands of dollars per day — and Mote is caring for two. At the same time, the Lab as a whole is responding to multiple ecological emergencies: the long-lasting red tide bloom along southwest Florida requiring intensive monitoring, research and outreach; the related spike in wildlife mortality that demands attention at virtually all hours; and a record outbreak of coral disease in the Florida Keys requiring unprecedented, scientific response.

While emergency government aid is helping with parts of our response efforts, it cannot close the gap facing Mote as a nonprofit. Community support can make all the difference in helping Mote address these emergencies issues. Visit this page to support these critical efforts.


Pygmy killer whales are considered "naturally rare" by NOAA Fisheries. Check out more information about this species here.

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