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Rarely-seen whale found stranded in Salisbury, M.A.

Marine Mammal Rescue Team members Ashley Stokes and Rob Royer measure the stranded pygmy sperm whale
Seacoast Science Center
Marine Mammal Rescue Team members Ashley Stokes and Rob Royer measure the stranded pygmy sperm whale

When Brian Yurasits and others on his marine mammal rescue team found a whale stranded at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation in Massachusetts, the animal was thrashing around in about a foot of water.

“It is very difficult to see any live, large cetacean like that, in that situation,” he said. 

But it was a learning experience, too, Yurasits said. The animal was a rarely-seen pygmy sperm whale, more than 9 feet long and 700 pounds, according to the rescue team. 

Yurasits, who is based at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, N.H., says it was only the second time his organization had ever responded to a call for the elusive creature, which spends its life out in the open ocean. 

“These animals look just so incredibly unique,” he said. “They are species that some fishermen and folks who spend their entire lives at sea might rarely, rarely encounter.” 

The whale likely ended up on shore because it was suffering from an underlying injury or ailment, like parasites or a strike from a ship, he said. 

After collaborating with partners for advice, the rescue team decided not to attempt to help the animal float out again, which Yurasits said could cause more harm than good for a deep-sea animal like the pygmy sperm whale. It was also a dangerous situation for the rescuers, given the size of the whale and the way it was moving. 

The team documented the whale in order to better identify it in the future and waited for a high tide to come and help the animal float back out into the water by itself. 

Just after sunset, the whale swam away on its own. 

Euthanasia is considered in some of these cases, with the goal of reducing the animal’s suffering, Yurasits said. But in this case, the chance that the whale would have floated back out into the ocean after being euthanized was too high. Animals must be collected after being euthanized to avoid risks to public health and other marine life. 

Yurasits says the public should keep a lookout for this whale. If a beachgoer sees it or other stranded marine life, he advises they keep a safe distance of more than 200 feet, and call the Seacoast Science Center’s hotline at 603-997-9448.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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