Dozens of locals of all ages gathered on the beach strand south of Kure Beach Pier Wednesday morning to see something that’s not often seen here: a dead humpback whale that had washed up overnight on shore.
According to Robin Nalepa of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, which is assisting the Marine Mammal Stranding Program at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington, the beached whale was reported to the Kure Beach Police Department around 5:45 Wednesday morning.
“It’s not something that we see a lot right here,” said Nalepa, who said about 8,000 to 10,000 humpback whales can be found off the Atlantic coast.
Nalepa said the whale was in bad shape before it ended up on the beach.
“Early indications are the animal was very sick and already dead when it washed up,” Nalepa said. “It’s exceptionally emaciated and covered in whale mites [lice], which is not normal.”
The whale did not weigh as much as initially thought, and an original estimate of 15 tons was lowered to 15,000 pounds.
Though the whale was visibly unhealthy, many residents, including some young animal lovers, came out on a cloudy but mild day to get up close and personal with one of the largest marine mammals.
“I think it’s very sad, but also very cool to look at,” said nine-year-old Dylan Burrill, a Carolina Beach resident whose grandfather is a mammologist. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Burrill’s friends, who tried to get as close as possible without getting wet during the rising tide, were also in awe of the animal.
“I’ve seen whales before, but I’ve never seen one up close,” said nine-year-old Vincent Agrillo, who once watched whales swimming in the ocean while he was standing on the pier with his mom. “I like that we were able to get close to it.”
“I’m surprised that it’s so big,” said eight-year-old Mia Agrillo, who said she liked seeing the bumps and other things on the whale’s skin. “If it’s that big and it’s just a baby, how big was its mom?”
According to Nalepa, the whale was a juvenile approximately one to two years old. It was estimated to be about 20 to 25 feet long.
Though still a young whale, its size proved problematic when marine biologists needed to move the whale out of the incoming tide and to higher ground. UNCW and Kure Beach staff had to call in the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is working on a beach renourishment project further north on the beach. An initial attempt by William McLellan, the North Carolina state stranding coordinator from the Marine Mammal Stranding Program, and his crew to move the whale using chains and manpower was unsuccessful. Track loaders from the ACE were brought in, and one of them was able to move the whale south along the beach to near the Davis Beach access in Kure Beach.
A necropsy will be performed Wednesday afternoon on the beach to determine the animal’s cause of death.
Watch a video of the whale being moved here: