Norfolk residents in Ocean View had an unsuspected visitor this past Sunday when a dead Fin whale washed ashore.
Marine biologists from the Virginia Aquarium have been working to determine the cause of death.
Judging by the whale’s injuries, a deep one and a half-foot gash on the back of its head with orange paint or rust residue, scientists believe the whale may have collided with a large vessel resulting in a fractured skull. It could be several months until this is known for sure.
“The whale’s skin and organs are still intact and in good condition, indicating that the animal has not been dead for long,” said senior scientist of the Aquarium’s Stranding Response Program, Susan Barco, to Wavy News.
Scientists performed a necropsy, the animal equivalent of an autopsy, on the 42-foot whale as crowds gathered to witness the procedure on one of the largest marine mammals on Earth.
Jackie Bort of the Stranding Response Team told Wavy News an unusual number of whales have been migrating along the coast due to the warm winter.
She explained, “Having warmer water and weather means more plankton, which means more small fish, which means more of these large predators out here.”
The scientists first thought the whale to be a Sei whale, on Monday. After lifting the whale they were able to view the baleen, a filter feeder system inside the mouth, and determined it was a Fin whale. Both are an endangered species.
“It’s a bit of a tragedy, but what can you expect with one of the largest shipping areas in the Tidewater area,” said senior Ray Best. “It probably just got nailed by a freighter and went unnoticed.”
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has rules for vessels that encounter whales, forbidding them from approaching a whale head-on and require a ship or boat to keep a distance from the animal.
As for now, scientists and bystanders continue to observe the animal respectively. The whale is planned to be buried on the beach soon.
Photo by Elaina Ellis