‘No Signs of Non-Natural Death’ For Stranded Whale

‘No Signs of Non-Natural Death’ For Stranded Whale
The deceased whale is pictured Feb. 20 on the northern end of Assateague Island. Photo by Campos Media

ASSATEAGUE — One week after it was found deceased on Assateague Island, a 30-ton female humpback whale remained Thursday in roughly the same position in the surf line.

Last Thursday evening, a female humpback whale stranded on the beach at Assateague for reasons unknown and perished. Throughout the week, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologists conducted a necropsy and collected tissue samples in an effort to determine the whale’s cause of death.

The female humpback was a well-known visitor to the Gulf of Maine affectionately known as Pivot. Pivot was first identified by the Center for Coastal Studies in 2008. She was regularly sighted in the Gulf of Maine and was also known in the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog maintained by Allied Whale at the College of the Atlantic.

As of Thursday, the deceased whale remained in the same position on the beach where it was discovered. Assateague Island National Seashore crews on Tuesday attempted to remove the whale from the beach to no avail. Per a statement from the Assateague Island National Seashore superintendent, removing the 30-ton humpback from the beach was fraught with challenges.

“After several hours of work, we have been unable to move the whale,” the statement reads. “We estimate its weight at 30 tones and it proved beyond the capabilities of our equipment to move it out of the surf zone. We will continue to monitor the situation and may try again tomorrow if it moves to a more advantageous location.”

Assateague Island National Seashore officials late Wednesday confirmed attempts by park staff with heavy equipment were unsuccessful on Tuesday and Pivot remained roughly in the same position in which she stranded.

Marine biologists continued to conduct a necropsy and take tissue samples throughout the week and the results of that investigation do not suggest any man-made cause of the whale’s death such as a boat strike, for example.

“Maryland DNR has taken tissue samples in an effort to determine the cause of death,” the statement reads. “There are no signs of a non-natural death. A rising tide made it unsafe to continue work this afternoon, and further sampling will take place at a later time if it is safe to do so.”

On Thursday, the Maryland Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Response Team continued their work on Assateague. As of Thursday, staff continued to conduct a necropsy and collect tissue samples, but the cause of death had not been determined.

The DNR continued to remind the public the Marine Mammal Protection Act any taking or harassment of a stranded whale or other marine mammal is prohibited, even if the marine mammal is deceased.

It’s not unusual for whales of all species and sizes to strand on area beaches from time to time and there have been different methods used for removing them from the beach. Most recently, a juvenile sperm whale stranded on the beach at 112th Street and that marine mammal was ultimately buried in the sand at an undisclosed location.

In 1922, a whale washed up on the beach near Caroline Street in Ocean City. It was towed out to sea by the U.S. Coast Guard, but it floated back to shore just north of the fishing pier. In perhaps not the best decision, he City Council ordered the whale carcass to be dynamited and several pieces landed on the pier building along with other hotels and shops in the area. Legend has it the smell of the rotten whale did not entirely disappear until the Great Fire of 1925 destroyed many of the buildings in and around the downtown area.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.