Posted by: The ocean update | June 3, 2015

Whale washes up on Tybee Island (Georgia, USA)

This pygmy sperm whale was stranded on Tybee Island on Saturday night. Wildlife investigators found no obvious cause of death. Photo courtesy of Tybee Island Department of Public Works

This pygmy sperm whale was stranded on Tybee Island on Saturday night. Wildlife investigators found no obvious cause of death. Photo courtesy of Tybee Island Department of Public Works

June 3rd, 2015 (Mary Landers). A live pygmy sperm whale washed up on Tybee Saturday and died a short time later. A preliminary investigation found no obvious cause of death.

Beachgoers observed the rare 10-foot whale at the 9th Street beach late Saturday night and notified police. Tybee Public Works employees arrived at the scene to find the whale had already died. The next morning they transported the carcass to the public works yard for a necrospy, or animal autopsy.

The examination revealed the animal was emaciated but couldn’t pinpoint a cause of death. The examiners included Department of Natural Resources biologist Clay George and staff and students from Savannah State University, Tybee Island Marine Science Center, Burton 4H Center at Tybee Island and Tybee Public Works.

Among those participating was Chantal Audran, curator at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. Little is known about this species, she said.

“Every little bit of information pieces their puzzle together,” Audran said.

Pygmy sperm whales, scientifically known as Kogia breviceps, are toothed whales, as are dolphins. In their lower jaw only, they have up to 16 pairs of teeth that fit into sockets in the upper jaw. This one had sharp teeth, 26 in all, though a couple were broken, according to the initial stranding report. Pygmy sperm whales eat crustaceans and fish as well as squid and octopus. The necropsy revealed this adult male favored squids: Beaks, eyes and pens were discovered in its three stomachs.

Kogia, as they’re called, have some unusual adaptations, Audran said.

“They can store ink from consumed squid, within their colon, and release it in a tactical plume,” she said.

Worldwide population figures for the pygmy sperm whale are unknown, but they are not considered endangered, according to the American Cetacean Society. They are distributed widely through temperate, sub-tropical and tropical waters. In the U.S., they are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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