UNCW Researchers Perform Necropsy on Young Whale That Washed Up at Kure Beach

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The marine mammal stranding team at UNCW has determined that a young humpback whale that washed up at Kure Beach on Wednesday probably died as the result of a parasite that attacked its organs. There were no apparent external injuries that could have caused the death.

“The animal was extremely emaciated and had significant kidney dysfunction from parasites in the kidneys,” said William McLellan, a University of North Carolina Wilmington research associate and state coordinator of the Marine Mammal Stranding Program.

Researchers performed a necropsy on the juvenile whale, estimated to be two to three years old, to determine the cause of death and to study the animal’s physiology. The male humpback was 30 feet long and weighed approximately 10,000 pounds.

“There was no evidence of entanglement or a vessel strike,” McLellan said. Multiple organ and tissue samples were taken during the necropsy, and tests will be run to confirm cause of death and determine the overall health of the whale.

In addition to the UNCW researchers, the response included representatives of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and the town of Kure Beach, as well as undergraduate and graduate marine biology students from the university, McClellan noted.

“I would only echo Bill’s point that it takes a village to respond competently to a stranded humpback whale,” said Ann D. Pabst, a UNCW professor of biology and marine biology and member of the mammal stranding team. “Our good colleagues at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and the town of Kure Beach were amazing! It was a great learning and teaching experience for all.”

University of North Carolina Wilmington photographer Jeff Janowski spent much of the day observing the researchers and complied a photo gallery of the team’s work.

The marine mammal stranding team is made up of student volunteers, faculty and staff in the Department of Biology and Marine Biology. Its primary response area includes Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender and Onslow counties, although the team travels to other areas if its help is requested.

-- Tricia Vance