Preliminary necropsy results show that the young fin whale that beached itself and died at Cape Henlopen State Park last week was riddled with parasites.
“There was a lot going on,” said Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute Executive Director Suzanne Thurman.
Measured by MERR to be 57 feet long, the whale first showed up in Lewes on Thursday, Aug. 26, stuck on a sandbar in the Harbor of Refuge. It was able to free itself when the tide came in, but a short time later, beached itself again on the oceanside of The Point.
Around noon Aug. 27, after many onlookers had come to catch a glimpse of its tail flapping in the surf, and just moments after Virginia Aquarium representatives had arrived to provide palliative care and possible euthanasia, the whale stopped breathing, according to a MERR Facebook post.
The whale had to be cut into several pieces to move it out of the water for necropsy.
“Examination of the whale by the necropsy team revealed significant parasitic infections in the liver, lungs, and kidneys. The thin body condition and empty stomachs suggest the whale had been impaired and not feeding recently,” the post said. “Vessel trauma consistent with a propeller and skeg interaction was present on the back of the animal, however, the injury was small and showed evidence of healing, suggesting it was unrelated to the cause of stranding.”
More information will come after samples are analyzed, which Thurman said will take at least three weeks.
The whale was buried on the beach by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, not far from where it died.
Two days later, on Aug. 29, a 54-foot male fin whale was found deceased in the surf at Barnegat Light, New Jersey, according to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. It had been dead for some time so no necropsy was performed, director Bob Schoelkopf said.
He suspects that whale was killed by a collision with a vessel and said it was unlikely the two whales’ deaths were related.