Featured Image Credit: Steven Graves via 13News Now
By Emily Persico
In the past month, three dead humpback whales have floated their way onto Virginia’s beaches. Their deaths, while most likely caused by boat strikes, were individually investigated by a team of marine biologists who are not afraid to get dirty.
Scientists are still unsure as to what extent whales can locate oncoming ships, identify them as threats and respond accordingly.
“Was [the whale] compromised in some other way? Was it otherwise healthy? Did it have parasites?” wondered Susan Barco, a Research Coordinator at the Virginia Aquarium, after her and the rest of the team found lacerations caused by propellers. To answer these questions, the team decided to go digging for answers.
Necropsies, or animal autopsies, are neither easy nor quick when you’re dealing with an animal that is 35 feet long and weighs as much as 5 adult elephants combined.
Scientists arrived to the scene with excavators to really dig around after cutting into the whales. Locals gathered around to watch the spectacle.
“It does seem like a lot, but I’ll let the scientists collect their data,” expressed one onlooker.
Whale necropsies are not for everyone, though. Not surprisingly, the smell of 15,000 pounds of rotting flesh is not a pleasant one.
One of the three whales had significant swelling, which is a sign of decay. The swelling can make it even more difficult for the professionals to do their jobs.
“We’re trying to pop that big bubble,” explained one biologist. Once that is out of way, the team can get started on the real investigative work.
“We’ll be focusing on examining the skeleton… [and] looking under the skin for blood clots,” detailed Alex Costidis, the Stranding Team Coordinator. “It’s kind of challenging to get into it, so that’s why we have the excavator.”
Once the team has completed their work, the three whales will be buried nearby and scientists will return to their labs. Hopefully, when they return, they’ll come back with some answers.
For now, they can only guess. More whales than ever are travelling to the Chesapeake Bay, which may in part explain why there has been more deaths. For the rest of the story, we’ll have to wait for those necropsies.
Check out our source to learn more.