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Whales stranded at Edisto Beach

by | October 3, 2019 5:00 am

Last Updated: October 2, 2019 at 2:57 pm

By VICKI BROWN
vbrown@lowcountry.com

Four Pilot whales stranded themselves on Edisto Beach early Saturday morning Sept. 28.
An unusual sight for South Carolina, the whales were discovered at approximately 7 a.m., but it is uncertain how long the whales had been beached. It is possible they had been there since some time Friday night.
Lowcountry marine biologists examined the two adult and two juvenile whales which were 10-15 feet long. Possibly, the whales were two mothers and two calves. One whale had already died, and the others had to be euthanized.
According to Edisto Beach Fire Chief Denney Conley, “The smallest whale was moved from the 35-36 section of the beach and sent for a necropsy to discover the reason for them beaching themselves.”
A necropsy is similar to an autopsy for humans. It is typically to determine the cause of death, or extent of disease in animals and mammals. There were no obvious signs of physical trauma on the beached Edisto whales.
“The other three whales were removed from the beach once the National Office of Animal Health was ready. They were moved by tractor and taken to a private location to complete the necropsies and then buried,” said Chief of Police George Brothers.
Edisto Beach Mayor Jane Darby stated, “Everyone involved did a grand job. This was such a sad occasion.”
Pilot whales usually are found 100 or more miles offshore, so the stranding is puzzling and alarming.
There are various reasons why whales beach themselves, such as deficiencies in vital nutrients, genetic problems, infections, parasites, toxins in the water, red tide and many others. In this incident, there were no obvious signs of physical trauma on the whales.
Though three of the animals were still alive, any attempts to push the mammals out to sea would have been unsuccessful and extended the animals’ suffering. They could have been preyed upon by predators, or more likely, they would have stranded themselves again.
Leaving whales to die naturally instead of euthanizing would have prolonged their agonizing death. A whale’s skin easily blisters in the sun, and scavenging seagulls are prone to attacking wounded or stranded mammals. Plus, without the buoyancy of being in water, the whale is actually crushed to death by its own weight, so humanely ending its life is sometimes the only solution.
Euthanizing is humane and involves administering drugs that will calm the animal, relieve pain and then stop the heart.
The results of the necropsy performed on the Edisto whales won’t be complete for several weeks. The tests will determine the cause of death of the whale pod.
Scientists have linked the deaths of the four beached Pilot whales on Edisto Beach with 17 found in Georgia. In July, 47 Pilot whales beached themselves near St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. Beachgoers stepped in to help the whales back into the sea. Late in September, 26 whales of the same species beached themselves on St. Catherine’s Island, south of Savannah. Sixteen of them died.
Necropsy results from the St. Simon’s beachings were inconclusive. The animals’ digestive tracks were empty which meant that they were away from their usual feeding habitats. They also had parasites in their ear canals and sinuses. But this did not indicate any definitive cause of death.
Unfortunately, this might not be the end of the beachings. These animals are extremely social, and when one is sick or injured, the rest of the pod will stay close, even beach themselves and die.

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