23rd 2009
The Perils of Being A Whale

Posted under misc

While we had a fantastic whale watch from Provincetown, over on Herring Cove Beach was a different whale activity: a necropsy. On the 22nd, a juvenile fin whale washed ashore. En route to Stellwagen Bank, we could see the whale, and a growing gathering of people, on the beach, very close to the parking lot at Herring Cove.

It’s a gruesome thing, but I’d never seen a necropsy, so once we came back to shore, I hopped in the car to go over. Much of the whale had already been removed by this time. It seemed still “whole” at around 10 when our whale watch boat passed by, but when I arrived at 2, it was apparent that no time was being wasted. This was, after all, a holiday weekend, and having a dead whale on a popular beach was not a good scenario.

I had heard/read about some necropsies and that dead whales have a pretty intense and awful smell. Those stories were not kidding. I watched for about 45 minutes before I had had enough. It makes me having enormous respect for the folks who were out there and literally IN the whale for the duration of the day. It is clearly not a pleasant, easy, or fast process, and I can only imagine how those folks managed. From what I could see, folks working on the whale were from Cape Cod Stranding Network (part of IFAW), and WHOI. It’s entirely possible that other organizations were there too, but I couldn’t tell.

No one seemed to be saying much, if they knew yet, about how this whale might have died. Ship strikes are a pretty common killer so I have to wonder if it may have been that. Since the whale had clearly been dead for a while before scientists were able to get to it, the decomposition may have been too advanced to get “good” tissue samples. This is purely conjecture on my part so I have no idea for sure. The only thing I did know was from a woman who was working to extract the ear bone from the head. (She studies hearing in whales, and the impact of human noise. I wish circumstances were more amenable to talking to her more about that topic as I find it very intriguing.) I asked her if, as in humpbacks, the fin whales develop wax rings in their ears which help to ascertain age. She replied that they probably wouldn’t be able to tell since “the whale was pretty well cooked.”

Onlookers were actually able to get fairly close to the process, so I took some photos with my point and shoot camera. That being digital, I can offer photos now. I don’t think I am going to link them from the main gallery since the photos are pretty gruesome to view. But I do offer them here. Just please, be aware of what’s in here because it’s graphic stuff. View the fin whale necropsy photos – viewer be warned!


7 Responses to “The Perils of Being A Whale”

  1. Cynthia on 24 May 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    I just tried to look at the necropsy pix, but got a 404 not found message.

    Anyway . . . I like the layout of your journal a lot . . . I should update mine one of these days.

    Glad to hear you’re having a terrific time in P-Town.

  2. Susan on 24 May 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    Amy, I couldn’t get to the link either.


  3. geek1 on 24 May 2009 at 5:32 pm #

    Not sure what happened since the URL didn’t change, but it seems to work now. Sorry for the mix up!


  4. Cynthia on 24 May 2009 at 9:22 pm #

    Still getting a 404 not found . . . I even did a reload on the URL to be sure . . . AND . . . using Firefox in addition to Safari . . . no joy!

    Guess it will have to wait for another day.

  5. geek1 on 24 May 2009 at 10:02 pm #

    I am mystified about it but am actively working on finding the fix. Will let you know when it is all set. Apologies for the snafu…

  6. Amy on 24 May 2009 at 11:01 pm #

    Link is fixed. Sorry for the troubles!

  7. Missed whales and dead whales on 23 Oct 2009 at 3:21 am #

    […] it teaches us about life“. Does make me glad that I made the effort to watch some of the dissection of a fin whale back in May. Gruesome business though it is, seeing these animals so closely adds a whole new […]

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