Necropsy performed on third dead whale to wash ashore

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va (WVEC) -- It’s a spectacle for many around Hampton Roads over the past two weeks; finding dead whales and witnessing whale necropsies.

As shocking as it is for residents, experts feel the same.

“It’s always a concern to see a dead whale in the area,” said Susan Barco, Virginia Aquarium Research Coordinator.

Three dead whales have washed up on shores in Hampton Roads within two weeks.

The first whale, also a humpback, surfaced February 2 in the Chesapeake Bay near the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. The Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response team pulled the dead whale out of the water near Craney Island before performing a necropsy to determine a cause of death.

A second humpback whale washed onto the Eastern Shore on Tuesday, February 7, after being spotted near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel February 5. Officials estimated the roughly 35-foot, 6- to 8-year-old male whale weighed 15,000 to 17,000 pounds.

The most recent was on Cape Henry in Virginia Beach.

All three were determined dead after being struck by large ships. Two were specifically injured by propellers.

“It does seem like a lot, but I’ll let the scientists collect their data,” said concerned resident, Dawn Miller.

While officials say seeing three dead in such a short time span is rare, ship strikes aren’t.

“We’ve had whales that have been ship struck since the 1990’s,” said Barco. “So, to take at number of three and to predict an uptick is really, really difficult.”

Officials say more whales are coming to the Chesapeake Bay to feed on fish.

Barco said it’s been like that for the past 25 years and it’s confusing to find out why these whales keep running into danger.

“Whether [whales] can localize the sound of an individual vessel, whether they perceive it as a threat and what they do as a response to that threat are all things that we don’t completely understand,” said Barco.

Aquarium officials said it’s an ongoing battle to fix the issue of whale strikes with large vessels.

“The military has been much more proactive than commercial shipping has and recreational boating has,
Barco said. “They are funding some whale studies in this area. And they are concerned about what’s going on.”

The plan is to further examine these whales to see if there are any deeper issues.

“Was it compromised in some other way? Was it otherwise healthy? Did it have parasites?” Barco expressed.

13News Now reached out to the Navy for comment. Ted Brown, Environmental Public affairs for US fleet forces command, said the Navy was not responsible for any of these strikes. Brown said there is training and protocol in place for sailors to prevent any marine life fatalities. 

PHOTOS: Third dead whale washes ashore within two weeks

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2017 WVEC-TV


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