BERLIN — A juvenile minke whale had to be euthanized last night after being discovered on a mud flat in Turville Creek near Ocean Pines.
National Aquarium in Baltimore Stranding Coordinator Jennifer Dittmar and an associate were stationed on the scene this morning at the county boat ramp off Gum Point Road. The two had been at the boat ramp since last night guarding the calf, which had to be euthanized with drugs yesterday. She estimated the calf was about a few weeks old at best and reported it was “very emaciated and had not eaten in a while.”
According to Dittmar, DNR will be transporting the whale, believed to be a calf measuring approximately 10 to 11 feet, for a CT scan to determine the cause of the death. The whale was secured in knee-deep water by a pier at the county boat ramp.
Dittmar said officials had been tracking the whale since Wednesday but had lost sight of it until last night.
“We had a video of the animal from Wednesday over in the bay but it was there for a short time and left. Natural Resources Police (NRP) and the Coast Guard had been keeping an eye out for it, but they were never able to re-sight it so we assumed it had left. Apparently, it was just wandering around aimlessly and members of the community called the NRP yesterday to let them know,” Dittmar said.
Typically, Dittmar said, whales of this age would still be with their mothers.
“Just taking a guess, it was probably an inexperienced mom or a first-time mom. It’s common with species like this that the moms don’t know what to do sometimes and may just get separated … it’s hard to say for sure and that’s not to say something else didn’t happen,” she said.
As of 9:30 this morning, Dittmar was on site waiting for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to arrive and transport it for a necropsy and CT scan. Due to the small size of the whale, it will be able to fit through the scan, an uncommon occurrence for whales.
“Oftentimes, we don’t have the opportunity to get really good detailed analysis of them because they are so big. With this animal so small, we can actually get it into a CT scanner, giving us a lot of insight into anatomy and life history,” she said.
After a necropsy, the whale will be transported to the Smithsonian, which will keep the skeleton and add the bones to its collection.