Friday, August 12, 2011

Sad Ending For Whale Found At Folly Creek

Written by
Clara H. Vaughn
ONLEY -- It was calm and breezeless on Folly Creek on Wednesday night as four Virginia Marine Police officers watched a team of Virginia Aquarium biologists work by spotlight in the marsh.

They were taking the vital signs of a beached whale in an uncommon place -- not far from the Folly Creek boat ramp in a waterway popular with fishermen, pleasure boaters and those heading for a day of sun on Cedar Island.

After assessing the whale, the aquarium stranding team determined the 10-foot-long pygmy sperm whale would not survive, and euthanized her in the marsh.

"You can't put these guys in a tank. They don't rehab well. And sending her back out would be a death sentence -- a much worse one," said biologist Christina Trapani.
Marine Police Officers Gerald Pitt, left, and Grady Ellis attend to a sperm whale found in Folly Creek on Wednesday. It was euthanized later that night by biologists from the Virginia Aquarium. / CLARA H. VAUGHN/THE DAILY TIMES
Trapani arrived with stranding team members Linda D'eri, Colleen Larkin and Jackie Bort around 9 p.m. Wednesday after receiving a call from the Marine Police.

They found the whale in a distressed state -- quivering, arching, thrashing and foaming from the blowhole.
The tide was going out, leaving her stranded farther on land as time passed.

The whale had been stuck since at least 5 p.m., when Marine Police Officers Grady Ellis and Gerald Pitt received a call. They arrived on the site, a mile from the landing at Folly Creek, soon afterward.

"She was in the marsh. A guy and his wife were trying to get her out," Ellis said.

After removing the rope the couple had used, he said the whale rounded the creek.

"She swam up and down the channel, looking disoriented," he said. "She swam up the other side of the creek. That's where she stayed."

Marine Police Officer Richard Haynie said in his nine years at his job, he had never received a call about a beached whale.

D'eri said sperm whales typically live in the open ocean.

"She is way out of her habitat. Usually, when they come this far in, there's a reason," she said.

Other calls received by the Marine Police earlier that day confirmed D'eri's theory -- a similar, smaller whale was also found stranded in the creek. Marine Police officers said the second whale was injured.

The stranding team noticed that the whale they were treated was lactating, indicating that the two were mother and calf.

The calf had freed itself and the Marine Police were unable to find it by press time. They planned to search again Thursday morning.

Its mother died at about 11 p.m. Wednesday in the steadying arms of the stranding team biologists. It was towed back to shore and taken to the aquarium in Virginia Beach, where staff planned to do a necropsy on Friday morning to better understand what happened.

"There's been a lot of pressure on stranding teams to save them all," Trapani said. "It would've been absolutely unfair to the animal."

If you find a beached whale, dolphin or turtle, contact the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Team immediately at 757-385-7575.


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