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Rescue effort unable to save stranded whale

Royal Gazette

By Jonathan Bell
Published Jun 1, 2012 at 7:00 am (Updated Jun 1, 2012 at 7:51 am)

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Sad end: Members of the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo, BAMZ and the Bermuda Institute of
Scientific and Research Organisations examine the body of a juvenile minke whale that washed ashore
along the shore line of Wellington Slip Road in St George yesterday. (Photo by Glenn Tucker)

A 17-foot minke whale calf that died after wandering into the shallows of St George's Harbour was salvaged for research by its would-be rescuers.

The disorientated animal was spotted yesterday morning by Italian crew members aboard the visiting yacht Canova, prompting a rush by scientists and fisheries staff to save it.

It died within minutes of the arrival of Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo and Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences staff, affording scientists a rare opportunity to collect samples.

“I really thought this would be a rescue effort,” said BIOS education coordinator Chloé Newcomb Hodgetts, stepping from the bloody water just east of Wellington Oval.

“For a young calf to leave its mother would imply to me a navigational issue, which is why I want to check its ears for parasites.”

The bloody scene was a result of the dissection, although lacerations — believed to be from attempts to pull the whale off sharp rocks — could be seen on the body. From its waterlogged lungs, scientists concluded it had drowned.

Ms Newcomb Hodgetts said the whale expired minutes after their arrival just after noon.

Added whale expert Andrew Stevenson: “To have a young minke whale in the harbour sounds like it stranded itself, which means it was not well.”

Accustomed to long stretches without breathing air, the mammals have exceptionally cell-rich blood, which stained much of the Johnson's Bay inlet a brilliant red. A few onlookers watched from the adjacent boat yard.

Bermuda Aquarium Museum & Zoo registrar Barbara Outerbridge collected samples on shore as principal curator Ian Walker moved quickly to collect the animal's organs. The scientists removed the minke's head, which they said they planned to freeze and store. The remainder of the body was taken safely offshore.

Unlike the often-seen humpbacks, minke are shyer visitors to local waters. Guessed marine scientist Lisa Greene: “This is the first time we've seen one ashore in at least 25 years, probably a lot longer.”

A dead humpback had to be towed offshore from the shipping channel about a month ago, Dr Walker said.

“We had a pygmy sperm whale wash up a while back in Somerset, which we looked after for a few days, but it went into cardiac arrest and had to be euthanised.”

Bermuda Maritime Operations got a call at about 11.30am from the British Virgin Islands-registeredCanova, but crew members spoke little English. The crew tried to drag the whale by rope from a dinghy, which scientists speculated could have drowned it.

Useful website: whalesbermuda.com.