Necropsy Confirms Minke Whale Died Of Natural Causes

FENWICK ISLAND, Del. — Delaware Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation (MERR) Institute officials have concluded the 25-foot minke whale that washed up on the beach in Fenwick Island likely died of natural causes and was later buried not far from where it came ashore.

Shortly after 9 a.m. last Thursday, the minke whale, estimated weight of around five to six tons, was discovered in the surf at the shoreline in the area of James Street in Fenwick. According to MERR Executive Director Suzanne Thurman, the female minke was alive when stranded, but died shortly thereafter. Thurman said the whale was emaciated when she reached the shore.

“The initial necropsy revealed she had not been eating and it appears she had an ulcerative condition in her stomach,” she said. “She also had a fairly old entanglement scar around her tail, but that doesn’t appear to be a contributing cause. There appeared to be some underlying condition, but we won’t know for sure until we get the lab results.”

The whale was discovered in the surf near the high tide line. It was later moved further back from the shoreline to allow MERR officials to conduct an on-site necropsy. After the necropsy was completed and samples were taken, the whale was eventually buried on the beach not far from where it washed ashore. Thurman said there was some discussion about moving the whale from the beach, but its sheer size and condition made that impractical.

“It’s almost always a burial,” she said. “Sometimes, we can load them on a truck and remove them from the beach for disposal, but it’s typically not practical. We did consider that because it was a holiday weekend, but there was not a better solution than to bury it.”

Thurman said there was no real concern about the massive whale being buried on the beach.

“It’s just part of the natural process and it goes back into the eco-system,” she said. “It’s buried at a depth where there is no real concern about any odors or other impacts. It’s deep enough that a child digging in the sand is not going to come across it.”

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.

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