Whales’ Cause of Death Determined

Fin whale in Napeague, photo Patricia Paladines
Fin whale in Napeague, photo Patricia Paladines BlueOcean.org

Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research completed necropsies and determined what caused two whales to beach in Amagansett and Napeague on Sunday.


The larger animal, a 59-foot finback whale that washed up in Napeague on Sunday morning appears to have died from boat-strike, according to Riverhead Foundation Executive Director Rob diGiovanni. The smaller 5.5-foot juvenile pygmy sperm whale had a host of problems, including severe gastritis, peritonitis, an ulcerated stomach and a rampant nematode infestation, diGiovanni explained following necropsies performed on Monday and Tuesday.

Mr. diGiovanni confirmed marine biologist Carl Safina‘s assertion that the fin whale had at one time been entangled and agreed it did not contribute to the animal’s death. The necropsy, which was performed on the beach due to the whale‘s immense size, revealed bruising beneath the skin, leading diGiovanni to believe it struck a boat.

Members of the Riverhead Foundation euthanized the 160-pound pygmy sperm whale after examining it on Sunday. The animal was in “severe distress” when it beached, diGiovanni said, pointing out that the whale had been ingesting solid food, but it was underweight and its stomach was full of blood and parasitic worms. The marine research organization completed the necropsy on the smaller whale at their facility within the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead on Tuesday.

The Riverhead Foundation receives reports of about 50 whales and dolphins washing up each year, diGiovanni said, adding, “It’s not uncommon to have whales and dolphins in our waters.” He explained that people just don’t see them very often. It makes sense to find whales in the waters around Napeague and Amagansett, considering they were historically used for whaling, diGiovanni noted.

More animals have been washing up on the East End over the last decade, and diGiovanni hopes to gain more support so the Riverhead Foundation can better survey and study the marine mammal population off the South Fork. He said they are grateful for the incredible cooperation and support from East Hampton Town officials and local volunteers these past two days.

The Riverhead Foundation also received a call about a seal on Sunday, and they are currently rehabbing a harbor porpoise, among a number of other animals at their facility in Riverhead.

Pygmy sperm whale, photo Patricia Paladines
Pygmy sperm whale in Amagansett, photo Patricia Paladines BlueOcean.org



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