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April 4th - Live Dwarf Sperm Whale Stranding on Sullivan's Island


Around 5 pm on April 4th, Lauren Rust received a call at approximately regarding

a live stranded “dolphin” on Sullivan’s Island. Video provided from the caller

did not a dolphin, but instead a stranded dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima) alive in the surf.

Lauren and Nicole quickly made their way to the scene where they met SI Police and Fire Departments, as well as IOP Police. NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service was also quickly notified as well as Dr. Jamie Torres, DVM and Dr. Lauren Michaels, DVM of the South Carolina Aquarium. Personnel on site worked to keep the whale as comfortable as possible on the beach by keeping it upright and wet. Breathing rates and behavior was monitored until veterinarians arrived. Movement and breaths were minimal.

NOAA NMFS and the SCA Vet team determined that humane euthanasia was the best option for this animal to prevent further suffering. Euthanasia was administered and the animal passed on the beach. SI and IOP police and fire departments assisted in lifting the animal off the beach onto our truck so it could be transported back to the lab for a necropsy.

Why Euthanasia?

We understand in these situations that the public might be confused or upset that the animal was euthanized and not pushed back out to sea. But what's important to note is that this species in particular are deep divers that live far offshore. When they strand alive on a beach, it is because they are likely very ill. In a lot of these cases, the animals pass on their own before vets even get to the scene. Pushing an ill, exhausted, and stressed animal back into the water only prolongs it's struggling and puts it at risk of drowning and being predated on.

Rehabilitation is also not a good option for this species. It has been attempted before but it has not been successful as these animals do not do well under captive settings (again, they need very deep water!). On top of that, South Carolina laws prevent keeping marine mammals under human care, so an animal that could be a good rehab candidate would need to be transported to a facility out of state which takes time, money, and a lot of coordination efforts.


The following morning, morphometrics were collected and a necropsy commenced. This animal was an adult male approximately 7 ft. long. It was slightly underweight and exhibited skin lesions that could indicate a herpes virus infection. Internally, we found that the heart was enlarged and showed signs of dilated cardiomyopathy, which is not uncommon in this species. A definitive cause of stranding was not determined.

On cases like this, we greatly appreciate the help of so many different teams working together. Thank you to SI Police and Fire, IOP Police, Mary Pringle, Drs. Jamie Torres and Lauren Michaels, Anna Diel (LMMN), Sophia Pisano (LMMN intern),

Kelly Cusick (LMMN volunteer), Maggie Knight (LMMN volunteer), and NIST.

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