Necropsies: Ship Killed Large Whale; Baby Whale Very Ill

Marine biologists feel it was just coincidence that two whales washed up the same day on Napeague.

Two whale necropsies were performed in as many days, after two whales washed up Sunday on the ocean beach on Napeague.

"At first, I thought someone was playing a prank on us," Kim Durham, the rescue program coordinator at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, said on Tuesday. "It was bizarre, but these two animals had nothing to do with each other."

Aside from being two different species of whales, Durham believes their deaths were from different causes.

Warning: A few of the photos of the whale being removed from the beach are graphic.

The larger whale, a female finback that washed up dead on Sunday morning, was struck by a ship. While on first visual inspection the whale showed no signs of being hit, when marine biologists got a look at the side it was laying on when it was first beached, the trauma became obvious.

"She had significant trauma on a dorsal and left lateral side," Durham said, adding that it was "extensively bruised," consistent with being hit by a ship. Severe blunt force trauma is the likely cause of death, she said.

On Monday, the necropsy was performed at the beach on the 57-foot, 40- to 50-ton whale.

A 7-ton excavator didn't have enough power to drag the whale out of the surf, where it spent the night. The biologists waited until low tide and then had it rolled over, she said. That process caused some skeletal damage, so it was not clear how much skeletal damage was from the ship-strike, Durham added.

Durham also found "many of the internal organs missing" due to significant decomposition. Though she still believes the whale had been dead for two weeks at the most, she said internal organs decompose at a faster rate than the whale's exterior. "The best way I can explain it is that the inside of a whale is like a large microwave," she said.

The biologists collected tissue for pathologists to confirm the hemorrhaging or bruising is likely from a ship strike.

Also found during the necropsy were liver parasites, large intestine parasites, and kidney parasites, all of which were likely within the normal range. Testing these findings allows researchers to further understand whales. "We only know from them what we examine when they are beached," she said.

The whale, broken up into smaller, more manageable pieces, was carted away to the East Hampton Town landfill for incineration.

Baby Whale Suffering 

As for the young pygmy sperm whale that washed up later on Sunday afternoon, Durham said on Tuesday that she was still in the process of performing the necropsy. She offered preliminary findings that the whale was in "very bad condition," before it was euthanized at the beach.

The male whale — a yearling, less than 2 years old — was suffering from severe peritonitis, or inflammation of its intestines. Durham found severe ulceration in its gastrointestinal tract and parasites in the whale's stomach chambers, in addition to "a lot of blood" from hemorrhaging, likely from the large ulcerations.

"He would have been a challenging candidate for rehab," Durham said.

She will continue to look for the cause of what made him so sick.

"He had made that transition to solid foods" and away from nursing, Durham said, adding that she found remnants of squid in its stomach. Out of its natural habitat, in warmer waters and offshore, the whale was thin. "He certainly wasn't eating what he should have been," she said.

Pygmy sperm whales are usually found as far north as the Carolinas, but are more prevalent in Florida and the Gulf area.

If they had been able to rehabilitate him — a process that would have taken many months — "NOAA fisheries wouldn't have permitted releasing him up here," she said. The whale would have to be transported down south and offshore. "Not to say it couldn't be done," she said, but the entire process' costs would have been "mind numbing."

Although it is rare to have two whales wash up so close together, Durham said she does not believe one is related to the other.

"Neither had any evidence of underwater activity," such as sonar exercises. When the Navy conducts such exercises — which is currently being done off the coast of Virginia — they notify NOAA fisheries, which are the administrators of the Riverhead Foundation's program, which in turn notifies them. Sometimes, dolphins will wash up with hemorrhaging in their ears.

Asked if the loud explosive sounds heard intermittently over several months in Montauk could have anything to the whales' death, Durham was resolute that there was other evidence to explain their conditions.

ViralGrain January 16, 2013 at 01:22 AM
Ship killed the whale. Maybe. The little one got sick. Maybe. The truth they both have in common is that they are different species of whale, both with navigational problem. Whales are not like deer that just get in the way of boats and get bopped on the head. Whales sonar so accurate I can pick out a sardine with pin point accuracy. Baby whales just don't separate from the rest of the groupe and vs versa. They don't abandon their young. Something went on out there that sent them scattering. Low-frequency sonar perhaps? Unfortunately we can never prove that because the evidence is being carted off to be incinerated which makes no sense when it can be used as fish food and we got enough carbon in the atmosphere with out a 60ft whale adding to it. Their have been law suits before by environmentalists that have succeeded in court and costed millions. I think someone knew that the baby whale suffered from perhaps more then just a infection and maybe some internal damage that can be caused by LFS. Just want to applaud the powers that be. You did a great job of CYA. You contained the situation well. Gave the media such as News Day a picture of a whale that looks like it doen't even have a head. A plausible story that some will except and most could care less. And anyone who raises any intelligent questions are conspiracy theorist and paranoid nuts and are heckled for saying anything to the contrary of the BS story being pushed on the readers.
cm January 16, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Let's crush the whale with the forklift then find out how he died.
Dana Kalbacher January 16, 2013 at 09:03 PM
I really do not think we need to see all these pictures of the whale being removed..the creature deserves a little more dignity and respect. One picture, all intact, would have been sufficient.
Whale Writer January 16, 2013 at 09:09 PM
TAYLOR VECSEY, You would really be doing your readers a great service if you spent some time with the staff and or board members of the Riverhead Foundation and got some solid background on what is involved with running such an organization both from a fundraising point and from the rescue/rehab point. Every time that you post one of these stories, it causes a lot of angst and doubt in the community among people who really have no idea of what the realities are. At best you call Riverhead in the middle of one of these events and get a few sound bites from over-worked people who have just gotten back from the beach or are still at the beach trying to deal with a very difficult situation. It's time for someone to try and understand what a unique organization and what unique challenges they face on a day to day basis. Why is there no support from the Hamptons (rich and famous)community, why is there so little interest from the average Long Islanders to help out through donations or volunteering? How come people who live on an island have so little knowledge about these animals and only speak out when they think Riverhead has done something they don't like? Maybe Taylor, you don't know the right questions to ask, but someone needs to really look at the situation in a thorough way and help the public understand what the situation is. Obviously, if it was easy, all the Monday morning quarterbacks would have started their own rescue team by now.
Whale Writer January 16, 2013 at 09:11 PM
The 58 foot fin whale was substantially decomposed when it washed ashore. Do you really think you are qualified to do a forensic exam from pictures on your iPad?
Dana Kalbacher January 16, 2013 at 10:19 PM
Taylor don't let WW get to you....no name no pain...
Whale Writer January 16, 2013 at 10:31 PM
Why not just claim that aliens came down and killed them, you have as much proof. For someone who claims to care about these animals, you sure have a lot of contempt for the one group in NY that has actually saved or attempted to save any of them. How to ignore the fact that they are actually rehabbing a harbor porpoise right now?
ViralGrain January 17, 2013 at 03:01 AM
Whale Writer it is obvious you are somehow linked with one of the agency's conected wit this mess. The foundation who handled this screwed up by murdering the baby whale and not even made the slightest attempt to save it. There actions don't have me running for my check book. There are other people and agencies that could of stepped in and helped. There are tanks that would have been sufficient to sustain the little one till something else was worked out less then 2 miles away at the fish farm. I don't speak for them but knowing them they would have done all they could to help. The thing was murdered and the evidence destroyed so the real reason to what led them to the beach could not lead to a suit. I am not the criminal justice system. I don't need evidence beyond reasonable doubt. As far as I am concerned this whole thing was more then just fishy. I hope the foundation knows that with the sacrifice of that baby whale to protect the public of the truth they destroyed the credibility of them selves. Whale Writer you did a great job of fortifying that. Hope your good at grant writing.
lauren January 17, 2013 at 03:25 AM
how about comments WITHOUT name calling


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