Cuvier’s Beaked Whale: Whalebone Recovery

by Jane Ahrens

March 2, 2014
By Jane Ahrens

Following up on the February 23 story, A Chance Discovery: Cuvier’s Beaked Whale Found on Fishers the whalebone recovery work took place at Fishers’ Hungry Point on Saturday, March 1, 2014.

The team of volunteers, coordinated by the Mystic Aquarium’s Stranding Coordinator Janelle Schuh and led Saturday by the Aquarium’s Assistant Stranding Coordinator Skip Graf, with whalebone specialists Tom French from Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, Dave Taylor from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), and videographer Scott Tucker, were brought to the island by Athos Macris of Coastal Environmental Services and his sons.  Lisa Eiriksson and her husband Karl, who found the whale February 20 while counting seals, coordinated the effort for the Fishers Island Conservancy. As reported previously in The Day, Janelle said, “The goal is to perform a necropsy and collect some skeletal and tissue samples and have them archived.”

The men got straight to work, first harvesting the small rear pelvic bone.  This bone is a scientific look back to millions of years ago when mammals walked the earth and before eventually evolving into sea going creatures. They also removed the whale’s melon, the round ‘sonar’ mass in the forehead of toothed whales that is used for echolocation, detecting objects or prey, especially when vision is impaired in dark deep waters.

Positively identifying the 18’ 8” Cuvier’s Beaked Whale as a male weighing approximately 2 tons, they were able to establish its age between 8-10 years – fairly young considering they can live to be 60 and are generally 23’ when full grown. The whale had been dead for some time before coming ashore on Hungry Point, so determining the cause of death may be difficult.  Skip noted that based on the depth of the blubber layer the mammal was not starving when it died.  Taking specimen samples of kidney and stomach tissue, and the worms found in the kidney, and noting the parasites found in the dorsal fin cartilage and dorsal blubber will allow for further analysis. Tissue samples from skin, blubber, muscle, kidney and stomach were taken for potential use in histopathology testing.  They did note six or seven broken ribs on the right side of the animal, as well as his right mandible (jaw bone) which could have been caused by aggression from other males, boat-strike or may have occurred post-mortem. Tom French is hoping to determine if these are injuries or damage to the dead carcass.

Although this species is not rare, the beaching of this whale in general is very rare.  Many wonder how it came to land on the island’s north side as most beached animals are found on the south side beaches.  Some speculate that the winter storms and tides may be the reason.

As Skip Graf said, “It was a wonderful multi-institutional effort!” The Mystic Aquarium, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Coastal Environmental Services, and the Fishers Island Conservancy. An Island thank you goes to Lisa for organizing the recovery effort on island and supplying coffee and food on-site, to Karl for working the equipment and finishing with burying the remains, to David Burnham for supplying the mini excavator, to Jim Reid for filming the recovery, and to Greg Thibodeau and Joe Brock for their help with volunteer transportation.

More information will be available after the Mystic Aquarium’s marine biologists complete their work and the skull and bones are carefully examined by Tom French at Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.  The skeleton will rest at the New York State Museum in Albany about a year from now.

Editor’s Note: Photos in this slideshow are a bit graphic and have been shared with the scientists for their use.

Photos by Jane Ahrens

Video from a drone by Jim and Izzy Reid

For more information on Cuvier’s Beaked Whale please visit:

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

A Fishers Island Community Center Program and the accompanying Fog Horn eNewsletter serve as the communications resource for the Fishers Island community. The content – news, calendar, links and photos, milestones, ads, and more create a clear image of Fishers to those on and off the island.

© 2023 – All Right Reserved.