MERR: Beached whale died from parasitic infection

57-foot male fin whale has been buried in the sand at The Point in Cape Henlopen State Park
August 31, 2021

Story Location:
The Point
Cape Henlopen State Park
Lewes  Delaware  19958
United States

The fin whale spotted near the beach Aug. 26 on The Point in Cape Henlopen State Park died Aug. 27 from a significant parasitic infection, according to the Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute.

The 57-foot male fin whale stranded on a sandbar on the bayside of The Point the morning of Aug. 26. Later that day, the whale was able to free itself from the sandbar, but ultimately beached again on the oceanside of The Point that evening.

According to MERR, the whale died on its own Aug. 27.

“A necropsy was performed later that day, and preliminary findings confirmed that this was indeed a debilitated animal suffering from underlying conditions,” said MERR, in a statement Aug. 28. “Examination of the whale by the necropsy team revealed significant parasitic infections in the liver, lungs and kidneys.”

The whale had a thin body and empty stomach, suggesting it had been impaired and not feeding recently, said MERR. There was some scarring consistent with a propeller and skeg interaction on the back of the animal; however, the injury was small and showed evidence of healing, suggesting it was unrelated to the cause of stranding, said the statement.

The whale was buried on the beach in the evening by the Shoreline and Waterways Management team from Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

MERR said staff and volunteers from the MERR Institute and Virginia Aquarium had made plans to provide palliative care, sedation, and possibly euthanasia, but that turned out to be unnecessary.

Every summer, DNREC closes The Point to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic to protect nesting shorebirds. The oceanside’s drive-on area of The Point’s will still be reopening Wednesday, Sept. 1. 

Nikki Lavoie, DNREC spokesperson, said to bury the whale, a deep trench was dug during low tide, near the dune line. Normal wave action and beach movement will not disturb the burial, said Lavoie, adding there will be no impact for the annual reopening of The Point.

The public can report strandings in Delaware to MERR at 302-228-5029.

Editor’s note: In the Friday, Aug. 27 edition of the Cape Gazette, the whale’s species was incorrectly identified; it is a fin whale.

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