Rare Pygmy Sperm Whale Death on Brooklyn Beach Has Experts Worried

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The stranding and death of a pygmy sperm whale on a Brooklyn beach is raising concern that an unknown factor could be troubling this rare squid-hunting species that much prefers deep sea waters, experts said on Friday. .

“That rarely happens,” Rob DiGiovanni, chief scientist of the Hampton Bays-based Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, said by phone.

While 18 of these whales, which can grow to around 11ft long and weigh more than 900lbs, have washed up on New York shores in the past 41 years, this is the fourth of its kind. dead in the past five years, he said.

“The frequency is different, but you’ve also had an increase in the number of large whale strandings,” he said. “You definitely have a shift in the ecosystem, not necessarily for the worse.”

New York’s now cleaner waters and fishing limits that have helped rekindle the population of a vital prey fish, bunker or menhaden, are among the reasons given for the return of dolphins and whales to these waters.

This adult whale died Thursday morning at Plumb Beach, part of the Gateway National Recreation Center, officials said, before the Riverhead Marine Rescue Center in New York could euthanize it.

Alerted on Wednesday, the center sent a team to assess the pygmy whale, which had been pushed back into the waters, said Maxine Montello, director of the center’s rescue program.

“We understand that everyone has the best intentions,” Montello said, but sending a dolphin or whale back to sea risks lengthening their suffering as they may have been stranded because they are sick and unable to swim. properly.

Pygmy whales are protected in this country by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which requires people to stay 150 feet away or face fines of up to $100,000 and up to a year in jail.

With their melon-shaped heads, they look a bit like grey-black belugas.

One of the reasons they are so rare, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is that they “spend very little time on the surface of the water and almost never approach ships.”

“This incident underscores the importance of the stranding network as a source of data on little-known species and as an early warning system for what could be an emerging problem with a population of marine mammals,” Teri Frady , chief, research communications, NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, said via email.

Death did not come easily to this pygmy.

Not only was he thin – although there was food in his stomach – he also had a “heavy parasite load,” DiGiovanni said, suggesting an underlying disease that could be identified from samples. tissue removed during the autopsy performed by the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society.

“It appears to be natural, not human-induced,” DiGiovanni said, as this whale had clearly not been struck by a boat, entangled in fishing gear or ingested litter.

Slow swimmers, pygmy whales are known for their “logging” or resting on the surface of the sea. water,” says the Plymouth, Mass.-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society of the nonprofit advocates.

“Once they are ready to move forward, pygmy sperm whales sink like stones below the surface, unlike other cetaceans which prefer to roll,” he added.

Able to dive to 1,000 feet, they also eat fish, octopus, crab, and shrimp.

Unlike all other whales except the dwarf sperm whale, pygmy sperm whales use the same type of technique that squids deploy when threatened, ejecting a “dark reddish-brown liquid” from an intestinal sac that helps them escape predators by obscuring the water, according to NOAA. .

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