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UPDATED: Beached Whale in Montauk Dies

Authorities say a young whale beached east of Ditch Plains Beach died Saturday afternoon.

An injured young sperm whale that was beached in Montauk on early Saturday along a rocky strip east of Ditch Plains Beach has died, authorities said.

Kimberly Durham, Rescue Program Director for the Riverhead Foundation, confirmed the whale died in front of the Montauk Shores Condominiums at around 2 p.m. 

Durham and other rescuers had been monitoring the whale's respiration through his blowhole, she said. At 2 p.m. the whale's respiration had become less shallow, she said.

The Foundation is now working with town officials and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to come up with a disposal plan. Durham would like to be able to perform a necropsy on the beach if authorities can move the whale from the rocks onto a sandier part of the area. The groups are working on the details because transport will require special equipment.

"We would like to secure the animal and do an examination," Durham said. "Because something happened to this animal, and for me, I want to know."

Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, which arrived just after 11 a.m., decided rescue procedures would be too risky, especially given the animal's rapidly diminishing health.

"I have to rule there is a strong likelihood that people might get hurt," Durham, said. "This is a worst-case scenario because you have a young animal, this is the end stage."

Eyewitnesses noticed the whale at dawn, and East Hampton Marine Patrol arrived on the scene shortly after then. Several children tried to comfort the animal, pouring buckets of water over the whale during low tide, eyewitnesses said.

The calf was about one year old and still nursing from its mother, Durham said, which makes it nearly impossible for the Foundation to provide proper care. The animal looked emaciated.

"Due to the location of the animal in this situation, because it is a calf, it is irresponsible just to push the animal off," Durham said. "The animal will starve, it cannot feed on its own. It breaks my heart."

Eyewitnesses said the sperm whale, which is not a coastal species, was bloodied on its body and tail, perhaps due to the rocky shoreline along that area.

"He's losing a lot more blood now, he was just kind of scraped up before," said Sandy Piereth of Montauk, before the animal died Saturday. "It's hard watching him all this time, struggling. If they think there is no hope for him, you wouldn't let a dog or cat suffer like that."

The Riverhead Foundation had to follow federal protocol, East Hampton Town Harbormaster Ed Michels said, which in this situation prohibits authorities from risking their safety on the rocks.

"One hurt mammal is better than four hurt mammals," Michels said. "We don't want to see anything like this, it's terrible."

Beached whales are not uncommon in the area. In March 2010, a young humpback whale became stranded on an East Hampton beach. Despite attempts to save the animal, it was eventually euthanized.

Jerry S July 24, 2011 at 06:32 PM
I think your last paragraph needs some editing: " In March 2010, a young humpback whale became stranded on an East Hampton beach. Despite attempts to save the animal..." There was actually no attempts made to save the whale despite many protests in the community. Post-mortem exam showed it was healthy! Sad.
Taylor K. Vecsey July 24, 2011 at 07:10 PM
Very sad indeed. Thanks, Jerry.
Sam Sadove July 25, 2011 at 01:22 PM
Very Accurate, there was no Attempt made to save the humpback. In this case Ms Durham is right that it would be improper to try to push the animal out to sea. I may still be nursing although based upon what I saw I suspect is was past that stage. However, it is a very social species and would need to be with the other members of its goups to survive. So the best course would have been to euthanize it. It is getting tiring hearing some much comment of how that is not possible when that is not correct. It may not be pretty but the animal would have been quite easily euthanized if the attempt had been made. Instead just watch it suffer, develop severe sun burn and dehydration and hope it does take days to die. More people need to start getting on NMFs case about this type of thing. You even learn more from the necropsy if the animal is euthanized as the damage from the shock syndrome is lessened and then the histo-path tells you more. Again here we go with poor handling.
Gail Simons July 25, 2011 at 05:00 PM
Montauk needs a better, more organized marine mammal response unit in place. After last year's horrific events with the humpback, there were many small upstart meetings that just fizzled. The only response here is for police tape to go up and threats of arrest if anyone cross them. I don't agree with anyone going rogue and trying to save these animals without a set plan, but if there is a response unit in place to handle these things, with a distinct and outlined plan for these various situations, then I think we all have a better chance for saving any healthy individual that may accidentally beach here.

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