Pygmy Sperm Whale washed up on Fishers

7:30 AM Credit: JTAhrens 9JUL20

By Jane T. Ahrens
Click any image for a larger version.

7:30 am, Thursday, July 9, 2020:
A Pygmy Sperm Whale washed up on South Beach this morning about 100 yards west of the 1st hole at HHC. Unfortunately, it is deceased. Science teacher Carol Giles measured it at 9.5′ and made the preliminary identification as a Pygmy Sperm Whale. The Mystic Aquarium’s Stranded Animal group was notified by the volunteers here.

Click to enlarge image.

9:30 am: It seemed to be going back out as the tide cames in.

Although the Aquarium is closed due to COVID, they were still at the ready and working with NOAA which is covering this area for them.

Islanders were asked to, “Please let us know if you see it washed up again on any part of the Island. You may text (203) 801-8431 and we will notify the proper people.”

Please remember:

  • Do not touch or get too close to a stranded animal. They can carry morbillivirus and brucellosis which are zoonotic so people should definitely stay away
  • Note the location
  • Contact a volunteer immediately
  • Removing teeth or any portion is illegal

4:00 pm:
“HFLM Land Trust Stewardship Coordinator Jack Schneider, who previously worked as the curator of animals at the Maritime Aquarium, Norwalk, took pictures of the jaw and teeth as the tooth pattern aids identification. The teeth of the lower jaw of pygmy sperm whales match sockets on the upper jaw.” ~ HLF Museum

8:00 pm:
The NOAA stranding scientists arranged to have the carcass spray-painted, with lines on both sides, in case it drifted ashore at another location. This was taken care of by Jeff and Benjamin Edwards and makes it clear that it is the same whale that had already been reported.  The carcass is a marked specimen at this point.

Friday, July 10, 2020:
If not for COVID-19 it is very likely scientists may have traveled to Fishers to study the specimen as, according to NOAA, “Little is known about both [dwarf and pygmy] species because of limited information, and they are considered rare. Pygmy sperm whales, like all marine mammals, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA Fisheries and its partners are working to conserve pygmy sperm whales and further our understanding of this species through research and conservation activities.”

Since the whale was beached on the Town of Southold’s South Beach it became the town’s responsibility to take care of the carcass. Town Board member Louisa Evans was instrumental in making the arrangements for the burial. This included selecting the proper location above the high tide line and procuring the contractor to take care of the removal.

Credit: Ned Carlson 10JUL20

Saturday, July 11, 2020 – Resolution:
It became evident very early Saturday morning that the whale was not going to wash back out, despite the winds of tropical storm Fay Friday night and into Saturday’s early hours. So plans were put into place and the Toldo’s went to work on the removal.

Thank you to the following people on and off the island for their assistance and advice. John McCall, Carol Giles, Mere Doyen and family, Aaron Rice, Jeff Edwards, Benjamin Edwards, Pierce Rafferty, Jack Schneider, Louisa Evans, Jared Toldo, Fred Toldo, and the islanders who sent photo updates. As well as Sarah Callan, Mystic Aquarium’s Stranded Animal Program; Kim Durham at Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMSEAS); Town attorney John Burke, and others.

Below are more photos of the whale and the removal sequence. You will notice the positioning of the whale in the tarp, transport west on South Beach, and the burial. Photos by Jane Ahrens (JTAhrens) unless noted. Click any photo to see a larger image or scroll through the gallery.

Atlantic Marine Conservation Society scientists advised the bloated mammal needed to be punctured before being covered in the 9′ deep hole. The 16,000 pounds of weight behind the backhoe claw did not puncture the skin; nor did the foot-long metal spike, which was easily bent; nor the 6″ drill bit. It took a Sawzall to slice through the skin and fat layer to relieve the gases from the body. This last tab with images is a bit gory with an internal organ photo – you have been warned.

Click any photo to see a larger image or scroll through the gallery.

Puncturing the bloat

We await confirmation on the positive ID but are fairly certain it is a Pygmy Sperm Whale. The cause of death is not known.

If you should come across a stranded animal (dead or alive), do not approach or touch it, note the location, and notify Mystic Aquarium’s Stranded Animal on island volunteers including Mere Doyen,  Marlin Bloethe, Stephanie Hall, and Jane Ahrens. They will notify the appropriate people.

Please also report it to Pierce Rafferty at HLFM Museum and Stephanie Hall for the FI Conservancy at your first convenience.

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