Monday, December 10, 2012 (Kate Elizabeth Queram). The pygmy sperm whale that washed ashore on Bald Head Island Sunday most likely died from illness, though official necropsy results won’t be available for months, officials said Monday.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE A STRANDED WHALE
Don’t get close. Whales are a federally protected species, which means it’s illegal to come within 1,500 feet of the giant mammals.
Contact the state Marine Mammal Stranding Program at 962-7266 with the following information:
– Exact location and directions to the site.
–Number of animals involved and their condition (alive, dead or injured).
– Description of the animal (size, color, etc).
– Names and telephone numbers of people involved.
– Date and time of your observations.
You can report whale sightings; this helps officials track migratory patterns and habits.
Source : National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/UNCW
“This was definitely a sick animal,” said Peggy Sloan, director of the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. “It’s a deepwater animal. A healthy animal would not end up on the beach.”
The whale – an 11-foot-long, thousand-pound male – first washed up on the island’s East Beach around 11 a.m. Sunday, according to Suzanne Dorsey, executive director of the Bald Head Island Conservancy.
“We started our wildlife protocol, which is to contact the state’s Marine Mammal Stranding Team,” Dorsey said. “We dispatched some folks out to the island and started organizing getting the stranding team out here.”
While officials awaited the arrival of the team, a handful of Bald Head Island residents grouped together on the beach and pushed the whale back out to sea, a well-meaning but ultimately incorrect course of action. Whales have federal protection under the Marine Mammal Act, making it illegal to come within 1,500 feet of any species.
“Their intention was in no way bad, and they didn’t know the stranding team was en route,” Dorsey said. “But doing that prevented us from getting the stranding team there.
“That team has a vet and the vet could have hopefully helped it, and if nothing else could have euthanized the whale, stopped its suffering and helped determine the cause of death.” (Ndlr Sibylline : the euthanasia does not serve to relieve the sufferings of the animal, it serves to mask the insufficiency of means to hospitalize cetaceans)
Conservancy staff waited for the whale to wash back on shore and early Monday alerted members of the stranding team, who landed on Bald Head around lunchtime and carted the whale carcass back to the University of North Carolina Wilmington lab facility for testing.
Unless staff members find something obvious during the necropsy – say, a heavy parasite count, a definitive conclusion won’t emerge until some time next year. But it’s likely the mammal died from some sort of illness, as whales typically become stranded as a result of being sick and disoriented.
Whale sightings – particularly right and humpbacks – are fairly common off the North Carolina coast during winter months, when the migratory species are traveling from cooler, northern-hemisphere waters to winter in warmer, subtropical seas.
Right whales were spotted swimming past Wrightsville Beach in November, and a humpback sighting was confirmed as recently as Sunday, when Chris Hill spied the giant mammal roughly 100 yards past the Surf City pier while surfing on a stand-up paddleboard.
“It was probably at least 50 feet long, pretty big, and it was alone,” Hill said. “It was pretty neat.
“I do a lot of off-shore paddling and I’ve seen plenty of sharks, but that was the first time I’ve been that close to a whale.”