On July 21st, Daufuskie Island Sea Turtle Patrol notified our team about a deceased dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima) on the beach on Daufuskie Island. Our team loaded up our gear, and a 2 hour drive, a ferry ride, and a golf cart ride later, we made it to the animal.
This was a 6.5 ft, male dwarf sperm whale that appeared to be freshly deceased. Due to extreme temperatures, we conducted an expedited necropsy. The heat index this day was over 100 degrees! Field necropsies are always a bit more challenging than conducting one in our lab, but the heat sure made this one extra tough. Despite this hinderance, we found several significant findings during the necropsy. This animal had a large amount of pooled blood inside the thoracic cavity, indicating potential internal trauma. It also had a significant amount of foam inside the lungs and trachea, which indicate this animal likely stranded alive overnight before perishing. We also noticed hard stool in the intestines, suggesting dehydration and it had a heavy parasite load, which is not uncommon for these deep diving species. We also collected the stomach and intestines for future microplastic analysis which will be done by NOAA contractor, Bonnie Ertel, and NOAA intern, Avery West.
Once we finished with the necropsy, the animal was subsequently buried onsite. We made it back on the ferry and headed back to Hilton Head Island. We were sweaty and exhausted and eager to get back to Charleston. But as luck would have it, our truck battery was completely dead! After about another 3 hours of attempting to jump start the truck, we finally got it going again and made it back to the lab after 9PM. It was quite the day for everyone involved!
A big shoutout goes to Bonnie, Avery, and our LMMN volunteer, Marci-Anne Leysen, for being troopers and helping so much with this necropsy. A big thank you also goes out to Monica Ferguson with Daufuskie Island Sea Turtle Patrol for arranging for us to get on the ferry, taking us to and from the animal, and arranging burial of the whale. Finally, we are very thankful for Jeff Guyon, Brach Chief for Key Species and Bioinformatics at NOAA, for dropping everything and starting a long drive to Hilton Head to come pick us up when we weren't sure if the truck would start again.
Every stranding case is so different and you never know how each day will go. Our team will remember this one for a while!