Dead Whale on Beach
By JOSHUA SABATINI
An object drifted toward the South Beach shoreline early Friday afternoon. Pauline Martin, who was visiting Edgartown residents Kosta and Louise George, saw it in the ocean and wondered what it was. When the object washed ashore, they discovered the answer - a male, juvenile sperm whale.
After a day, brown and green pigments dappled the once black-and-white flesh. The tail fin lost its firmness, became a yellow membrane swishing about in the breaking waves. Chunks of the whale's lower portion had been removed by what many believe to be shark bites. A foul odor rose from the carcass and spread out over the large portion of beach known as the left fork.
On Saturday, David Grunden, Oak Bluff's shellfish constable, was out on behalf of the New England Aquarium in Boston, with his tools to remove the two jaw bones. The aquarium is in the process of performing a level A data analysis of the whale. Connie Merigo of the aquarium said the jaw bones may be used for scientific research or educational purposes after the analysis is completed.
Sgt. Bill Searle of the Massachusetts environmental police, who was out through the night on Friday guarding the whale, said the removal of the jaw bones is also a preventive measure. "The jaws and teeth of the sperm whale are highly sought after for the ivory," he said. "We wanted to make sure the ivory wouldn't end up on the black market."
Mr. Searle estimated the whale was two or three years of age, about 30 feet in length and weighed 12 tons.
Normally, a necropsy would be performed on the whale, but since the animal had been decomposing for more than three weeks at sea, the analysis probably would have proven futile.
"The most common cause of death for a juvenile whale is to be struck by a ship, but without a big gouge on its body there is no evidence of that. It's possible it died from a virus. Because of the extent of decomposition, it's just too tough to tell how it died," said Mr. Grunden, who, attired in a black wet suit, used a 14-inch blade to cut out a jaw bone while fighting the surf. He said when he was making the cuts a wave would come and put sand in the cut, dulling the blade, and he had to come back up, sharpen it and begin to cut again. A sperm whale has two lower jaw bones with a piece of cartilage between them. The top of the mouth has sockets for the teeth.
Mr. Grunden returned carrying the jaw bone with 20 teeth projecting out. "I am going to bag them and put them into a freezer until their transportation to the aquarium is figured out," he said.
On Monday, the whale carcass still lay on its side, jostled back and forth by the breaking waves.
Mr. Searle tried to make arrangements with the town to carry off the carcass in a dump truck and bury it or have it towed out to sea, but no measures have been taken yet, and the town may allow it to decompose where it remains. Mr. Searle advised that no one should come into contact with the whale. "People should take into consideration that the whale could have died from pneumonia, and there is small chance the virus could be passed on to them if they come in contact with it."