FENWICK ISLAND — Delaware Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation (MERR) Institute officials late yesterday were investigating the cause of death of a roughly 25-foot minke whale that beached itself and later died along the shoreline in Fenwick Island.
Shortly after 9 a.m. yesterday, a roughly 25-foot minke whale was discovered in the surf at the shoreline in the area of James Street in Fenwick. According to MERR officials, the whale was alive when it reached the beach, but perished soon after before it could be rescued. MERR officials said most whale species will beach themselves when they are sick or near dying.
The minke whale, one of the smallest of the baleen whales that pass up and down the mid-Atlantic coast, reaches an adult length of about 35 feet. The minke whale that beached itself in Fenwick yesterday was roughly 20-25 feet, or about two-thirds the length of a fully-grown adult. Adult minke whales weigh as much as 10 tons, or around 20,000 pounds.
According to a MERR official at the scene, it is not unusual for a minke whale to be in the waters off the mid-Atlantic coast this time of year. The MERR official said the minke whale, like most other whale species, migrates from the north Atlantic each winter to warmer climates in order to spawn and returns each spring to its northern home. In short, the minke whale discovered on the beach in Fenwick yesterday was well within its normal migration pattern for this time of year.
Not long after the whale was discovered, a few curiosity seekers started trickling to the beach to catch a glimpse of the somewhat rare spectacle. By mid-morning, the crowd, including a group of school children from Bishopville, had grown as officials cordoned off the beach around the deceased whale for about a half a block in either direction.
The minke whale was secured to a bulldozer on the beach with a rope and was scheduled to be pulled from the surf line sometime yesterday afternoon. MERR scientists were en route to the scene to perform a necropsy on the deceased whale to determine the cause of death. According to the MERR official at the scene, the minke whale did not show any signs of physical injury.
The necropsy was expected to be completed in a single day, depending on what time scientists arrived on the scene.
The method of disposing of the massive carcass was uncertain as of late yesterday, but burying it on the beach not far from where it washed ashore remained a possibility.
Last year, a massive 61-foot sub-adult fin whale weighing an estimated 100,000 pounds washed ashore in Fenwick just north of the Maryland-Delaware line and was eventually buried on the beach. In that case, attempts were made to move the whale to an area less residential, but its sheer size forced officials to bury it not far from where it was recovered.
The recovery and eventual burial of the beached fin whale in Fenwick last March came in the midst of a particularly active period of whale strandings in the area. Just a week earlier, a juvenile humpback about 27 feet in length and an estimated 20,000 pounds washed ashore in Ocean City in the area of 3rd Street.
While yesterday’s stranding did not have a good outcome, not all whale sightings in the resort area have sad endings. Last June, a juvenile humpback thrilled beachgoers in Ocean City when it swam along the coast in waist- to chest-high water for dozens of blocks on a busy summer afternoon before heading back out to sea.