Gervais’ beaked whale Strands on Atlantic Beach, NC

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Their mouths don’t open wide and
the females do not have erupted teeth.
(Males generally have 2 erupted teeth). 

 Vicky G. Thayer, Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for mid-coast North Carolina, was contacted about a marine mammal stranded at Atlantic Beach, NC on Thursday, February 10, 2011 . The whale was at water’s edge when found. It was a sub-adult female Gervais’ beaked whale, Mesoplodon europaeus, not a whale that commonly strands here. 

Scars from Cookie Cutter Sharks, 
not unusual for off-shore marine mammals
Notice that there is no notch in
the tail flukes 

Moving the whale out of the water
and onto the beach with a 4-wheel

The whale was so heavy that we had 

to take air out of the tires

to keep towing her in the sand.

In just 3 hours the bruising in her jaw became more
evident. Later, it was discovered that beneath this
bruise were two fractures of her jaw.

It was exciting to be able to weigh the whale since that was data not often collected because of the complexity of having all the equipment at hand. Carl brought a generator; county employees brought and drove the backhoe and Keith got the load cell. Many of us took pictures while knots were tied the whale readied to be hoisted up.

Weighing the whale.

Removing the blubber.

The local  crew. 
More scientists arrive from
Wilmington, NC to help. 
While we were working with this
dead whale, live whales and dolphins
were sighted in the ocean.                                          
Data sheets are like gold, as this
is where all information is recorded. 

The stomach.
Getting samples is not always easy.

Measuring the depth of
the blubber along the
length of the body.


She had a very small dorsal fin.

At the Vet School, her skull was
examined with both an MRI and a
CT. After that, her skull was dissected and more samples taken for study.

At the Vet School, when the skull was dissected
 two jaw fractures were discovered. They 

correspond to the location of the bruises.
You can see the large crescent shaped
blow hole in this picture.


Remains not taken to Vet school were left on the
beach to be buried the next morning wi
th a backhoe.

Skull, bones and samples are loaded
on the pick-up to be taken to NC Vet
School in Raleigh,NC for further investigation.

We finished just as it was getting dark.
During the afternoon it had gotten progressively colder. Fortunately, midway through the afternoon, Keith brought us a large bag of french fries. Since my hands  were clean, I put  handfuls in the mouths of hungry people whose hands were bloody.
The success of this entire endeavor was due to an incredible collaboration between NC DMF, NCSU, CVM, CMAST, NC Maritime Museum, NC Atlantic Beach Public Works and numerous individual volunteers.
(See blog entry for April 7, 2011 for more detail on this whale) 

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Comments (3)

  • john


    what’s the conclusion?
    orca attack?
    Genetic deformities should not kill it outright?

    ecco-sonar damaged due to bruise therefore beaching? and suicidal tendencies?


  • Tursiops


    John, this is the website monitor, I’ll check and see if a cause was deduced.


  • Tursiops


    I just talked to the first responder. No conclusion could be made. The injury to the jaw was fresh, but didn’t appear to be caused by the beaching. The researchers are always careful not to speculate in cases like this because there are so many variables.


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