Endangered sei whale calf stranded on Kitty Hawk beach

Published 12:53 pm Thursday, February 2, 2023

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Members of the OBX Marine Mammal Stranding Team responded to the report of a live whale on the beach at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 26, 2023. Upon arrival, the animal was identified as a sei whale and determined to be a calf, or juvenile that would still be dependent on their mother. According to a press release from North Carolina Aquariums, because of the young age and poor body condition, permitting agencies recommended the humane euthanasia of the nearly 22-foot-long animal.

“Yesterday evening, the Aquarium incorrectly reported that the whale had died. We apologize for the error,” stated the Friday press release. “These events are dynamic and larger species may require additional drugs for euthanasia. Sedatives and pain relief were administered to the whale and, although it was very quiet, an exam confirmed that it was still alive, although unaware of its surroundings. At this time a larger regional team was mobilized to bring in specialized equipment for such a large animal.”

Dr. Craig Harms, DVM, MPH, Dipl. ACZM, from the Department of Clinical Sciences at N.C. State University’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST) arrived Thursday evening from Morehead City along with Vicky Thayer from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.

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“The response team did an excellent job with this juvenile, yet very large whale,” said Harms. “They exhausted all efforts to make the animal comfortable, while expertly knowing when to stop administering medications so that potential scavengers and the environment would be protected. Our team takes comfort in knowing that the whale was made comfortable for as long as possible.”

The response team had to leave the beach once it was dark for the safety of staff and volunteers, noted the release. The whale was moved by the high tide overnight and could not be found during a thorough search Friday morning. “It is likely that the animal is now deceased and may wash up in the next few days along the Outer Banks,” stated the release.

“There is valuable information that can be gained from a necropsy examination about this endangered species,” the release continued.

Those who find a live or dead stranded marine mammal should stay back a safe distance and call local experts. On the Outer Banks, that number is 252-455-9654.

“We thank all our volunteers, staff, the Kitty Hawk Police Department, and Kitty Hawk Public Works for their assistance,” stated the release.

To learn more about sei whales, go to fisheries.noaa.gov/species/sei-whale.

Activities conducted by the OBX Marine Mammal Stranding Network – including Jennette’s Pier and the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island – are permitted under a federal stranding agreement with NMFS/NOAA.