A humpback whale that washed up on Kure Beach probably died due to a kidney parasite, authorities are now speculating.
The marine mammal was discovered by a beachgoer taking a stroll along the shore, on Wednesday, January 27, sometime around 6 a.m.
Local authorities were immediately alerted, but could only ascertain that the humpback whale, believed to be a juvenile, had already been dead when it became stranded on the North Carolina beach located south of Wilmington.
After drawing quite a large crowd of onlookers, at approximately 10 a.m. the animal had to be lifted with a bulldozer and moved further inland, so that its carcass could be examined more carefully.
The necropsy was performed by a dozen biology experts affiliated with the Center for Marine Science, at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
During the analysis, it was confirmed that the humpback whale, estimated to measure approximately 25 feet in length, was indeed a juvenile, between 1 and 2 years old.
Although its weight of 15,000 pounds may sound staggering at first, the deceased animal, which was determined to be a male, was actually quite bony and skinny, and appeared to have been plagued by ill health for quite a long while.
Its remains were strewn with whale lice, which are external parasites that usually thrive in the aquatic mammals’ open wounds or lesions.
According to wildlife expert William McLellan, this suggests that the juvenile creature probably spent quite a long while in the Atlantic Ocean gradually weakened by disease, before eventually being defeated by it.
After examining its carcass for more than 4 hours, biologists believe they have also identified the mysterious illness that caused the humpback whale to die at such an early age, given that life expectancy for this species usually lies between 45 and 50 years, with some animals having an even more impressive longevity (80 years).
Apparently, the young specimen had been affected by numerous parasites, located mostly in the kidneys, and renal failure may be that the reason why the aquatic creature died.
Researchers also discovered a tapeworm in the animal’s gut, and they believe this too caused the humpback whale to be so malnourished and devoid of strength.
They will now continue the necropsy to see if any evidence of mobilivirus can be found in the young creature’s brain, given that this particular pathogen has been proven to have debilitating effects on other marine mammals, like the bottlenose dolphin.
As emphasized by Robin Nalepa, a representative of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, so far a cause of death hasn’t been established with complete certainty, but the large number of parasites that the humpback whale harbored appear to be the most likely explanation for the juvenile’s premature demise.
Strandings involving aquatic creatures have become a regular occurrence along North Carolina’s shoreline in recent years, with some areas reporting such incidents on a daily basis.
For instance, on December 7, 2015 a young great white shark measuring around 11 feet was found dead on Wrightsville Beach, and authorities haven’t been able to determine how it met its demise.
Similarly, on May 11, on the heels of tropical storm Ana, Bald Head Island beachgoers found an adult beaked whale on the shore, and also discovered a juvenile bottlenose dolphin, which had to be euthanized by experts from North Carolina’s Marine Mammal Stranding Program.
However, at Kure Beach events of this kind, especially involving humpback whales, aren’t that common, which is why so many locals gathered to see the aquatic creature as it was being lassoed, dissected and examined by marine biologists.
Image Source: Island Gazette