MMR Responds to Stranded Pygmy Sperm Whale on Salisbury Beach

Karen Provazza | Chief Communications Officer

Rob Royer, SSC Senior Aquarist and Marine Mammal Rescue Assistant (L) and Ashley Stokes (R), SSC Marine Mammal Rescue Director, pause to take images of the whale to be used for identification and further assessment.

 

On Monday, January 10th,  Seacoast Science Center (SSC) Marine Mammal Rescue responded to reports of a small whale stranded on the beach at Salisbury Beach State Reservation in Salisbury, MA. Once on location, responders determined the animal to be an adult male pygmy sperm whale, measuring 9.5 feet in length and approximately 700 pounds. The whale stranded at the southern end of the beach near the jetty adjacent to the Merrimack River.

Responders found the whale vigorously thrashing in 8-12 inches of water, with visible abrasions from stranding. Due to the frigid temperature and the strength of the animal’s thrashing flukes (tail), it was not safe for responders to stay in the water, by the animal. Photos and measurements were taken for further evaluation and to help identify the animal if it does re-strand.

Kogia species, or pygmy and dwarf sperm whales, are an elusive, deep-water species and much remains unknown about them. Best response practice for strandings do not include attempting to refloat them because they are an offshore species—there is likely an underlying condition that caused it to come near shore. In addition, pygmy and dwarf sperm whales are highly susceptible to cardiomyopathy (diseases of the heart muscle). Humane euthanasia is a consideration for events such as these, but it was not an option due to the rising tide and the risk that the animal might wash out to sea post-euthanasia.

Shortly after dark, at peak high tide, the animal refloated on its own effort and swam offshore. A thorough search of the area Tuesday morning yielded no sign of the whale.

SSC Marine Mammal Rescue reports that the prognosis for the whale remains heavily guarded and is asking for the public’s help to report sightings, on or off shore.

If you suspect you have seen this animal, please maintain a wide berth (200+ feet) and call the SSC Marine Mammal Rescue hotline immediately at 603-997-9448.

More information on this elusive species can be found at www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/pygmy-sperm-whale.

SSC Marine Mammal Rescue extends thanks to local and environmental law enforcement and the Department of Conservation at the Reservation, for keeping the public away from the animal. SSC also thanks consulting veterinarian, Dr. Andruskevich, federal colleagues at NOAA Fisheries, and its network colleagues at IFAW and New England Aquarium, for consultation and guidance throughout the afternoon to help us through this unique and rare stranding event.

Seacoast Science Center Marine Mammal Rescue responds to all reports of live (healthy, injured, sick) and deceased seals, whales, porpoises, and dolphins in NH and northern MA (from Essex, MA to the Maine border).

You can keep up to date with Seacoast Science Center’s marine wildlife conservation work on the SSC Marine Mammal Rescue Facebook page and learn more about Seacoast Science Center and SSC Marine Mammal Rescue at www.seacoastsciencecenter.org.

Here, you can see abrasions on the whale from its thrashing on the sand in shallow water.

Rob Royer, SSC Senior Aquarist and Marine Mammal Rescue Assistant (L) and Ashley Stokes (R), MMR Director, measure the length of the whale while keeping a safe distance.

Here, you can see how this animal had initially stranded in approximately 8-12 inches of water, actively thrashing its flukes.

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