Humpback Whale Creates A Stir In Ocean City

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OCEAN CITY — Ocean City
Beach Patrol Sergeant Colby Kauffman says that Ocean City is starting to look a
little bit like Sea World.

The fourth whale in as
many months was spotted swimming leisurely down the Ocean City coast in
essential waist to chest deep water last Friday, giving thousands of beachgoers
a once-in-a-lifetime experience and caused quite a spectacle as it swam within
mere feet of nearby swimmers.

The (approximated)
27-foot juvenile humpback had been spotted earlier in the day further north by
lifeguards, but, according to Lieutenant Ward Kovacs, once the whale got to
about 50th Street, it made a proverbial b-line toward shallow
waters.

“He was just having a
great time out there and was having himself quite the smorgasboard on all the
little menhaden [a small silver fish in the herring family commonly found in
large numbers in the North Atlantic Ocean]”, said Kovacs. “He was fishing with
the dolphins and it appeared that he had figured out a good system by just
putting himself between the sandbar and the beach and was just going to town on
all these fish. We followed him down to about 27th Street and he
started to head back out again. I’m guessing he was full by then.”

Kovacs said that the
beach was packed that day and swimmers in the water were both equally alarmed
and amazed to see a huge black, white, and grey whale that stretched almost 30
feet swimming within a few feet.

“I think it was about
half and half,” said Kovacs. “Half the people were scared and ran out of the
water because they didn’t know what it was at first, and the other half were
trying to get close to it and touch it. Some people were concerned that the
whale was going to beach itself so there were calls coming into the Beach
Patrol offices.”

Normally, whales in
general, let alone whales of that size, are rarely seen so close to the
shoreline unless they are in distress and are going to beach themselves, but
according to Kauffman, the whale appeared to be anything but in distress.

“He was very playful and
didn’t seem sick at all,” she said. “He was playing with the dolphins and the
blue fish that were out there too, and rolling over and what not. It was very
exciting because I’ve only seen a whale once or twice in my 17 years on the
beach patrol, and it was really far offshore.”

The National Aquarium’s
Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) said this week several reports had surfaced
over the past 10 days about large whales reportedly feeding very close to the
shore, and noted that although it is not unheard of, it is a bit rare for the
large aquatic mammals to be so close to the beach and the public.

Scientists believe that
the whale or whales (they are unsure if the same whale is being sighted
continuously or if it is a pod of whales in the area), who congregate in areas
where there is an abundance of food, are being drawn towards the shoreline due
to a large schools of Atlantic menhaden that have been spotted along the coast
of Maryland and Delaware.

In March, a 10-ton,
27-foot humpback whale washed ashore in midtown Ocean City, and just a week
later, a 50-ton, 61-foot washed ashore in Fenwick Island, Delaware.

In early May, an 11-foot
1,000-pound Gervais beaked whale was euthanized by Aquarium’s veterinary staff,
which had been called in from Baltimore, after it was found far from it’s
natural deep sea habitat, and in the canal near a bay-front home on Old Landing
Road. The beaked whale, which is considered amongst the most elusive of all the
species, was reportedly taken by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC for
scientific research because so little is known about the species.

As for the 27-foot whale
that was essentially parading itself down the coastline like it was waving to
the crowds on the beach, Kauffman hopes that since whales often travel in pods,
that the whale didn’t belong to one of the two humpbacks that washed ashore in
March.

“I hope he’s not alone
out there because that would make me really sad,” said Kauffman. “Like I said,
he didn’t seem sick or anything like that, he seemed like he was having a great
time out there. It was really quite amazing.”

 

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