Rare Whales, Likely Related, Found Beached in Southampton and Bridgehampton

Posted on 08 January 2014

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A male True’s beaked whale calf beached itself in Bridgehampton late Sunday after a young female beaked whale, possibly the calf’s mother, was found beached in Southampton. 

By Kathryn G. Menu; Photo: The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation

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A pair of rare True’s beaked whales — likely related — beached themselves in Southampton Village and Bridgehampton this week. Both whales were deceased by the time staff from The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation arrived at the scenes and their remains are now being studied by both the foundation and the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, according to Kimberly Durham, a biologist and rescue program director at the foundation.

While Durham was still awaiting the results of genetic testing performed on both animals, on Wednesday morning she said she believes they were likely related, a mother and her male calf.

The foundation was first contacted on Sunday around 9 a.m. after a jogger reported finding a live, 14-foot dolphin at an ocean beach off Gin Lane in Southampton. While the foundation was awaiting photos from the jogger, the whale was pushed back into the water by another individual and re-beached itself a half-mile down the beach.

“I believe at that time the animal was deceased,” said Durham.

The young adult female True’s beak whale  (pictured above) weighed approximately one ton and was 15-feet in length, according to Durham.

A True’s beaked whale is rarely discovered beached, said Durham. A pelagic mammal, the True’s beaked whale is commonly found only in open water.

“They are pretty far out there and it is very rare for a specimen, alive or dead, to make it to the shore,” said Durham. “They are not a coastal species.”

With the help of the Southampton Village Highway Department, the whale was lifted off the beach and transported to the foundation for a necropsy. The head of the female whale was sent to Woods Hole, said Durham, as the institute hopes to gather information about the species by studying its brain and ears.

Durham said while a formal assessment of the animal’s death will not be available for about four weeks, it appeared in poor health, was malnourished and had ulcerations in her stomach and esophagus.

The foundation received a call late Sunday, said Durham, about a second beaked whale — this time a young male calf — beached in Bridgehampton between Mecox and Scott Cameron beaches. Durham said the whale, which was reported as deceased, was inaccessible due to the tide and researchers were able to get to the body Monday morning, secured the whale with the help of Southampton Town Police and transported it to the foundation headquarters for necropsy.

While both whales had necropsy performed at the foundation, similar to the female, the calf’s skull was transported to Woods Hole for further study.

The calf, said Durham, appears to have been dead for a couple days before beaching, and was malnourished.

Neither animal, added Durham, exhibited lacerations or blunt force trauma associated with a fishing vessel or boat.

“When we did the necropsy, it appeared there was no fisheries involvement,” she said.

Durham said the foundation was curious to discover if the beaked whales’ deaths were in any way related to a dolphin die off in the Atlantic, believed to be the result of a virus, which researchers have been studying.

Based on the fact the calf had milk product in its stomach and the young female was lactating Durham said she believes it is likely this is a calf and its mother, but that genetic testing would ultimately show whether that is a fact.

“The scientist in me is like, ‘Wow, a True’s beaked whale.’ There is a lot we can learn,” said Durham. “But in essence the story is just really sad.”

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