A yearling sperm whale calf was found stranded on the rocks east of Ditch Plain beach in Montauk early Saturday morning. The animal was alive but obviously injured and weak.
There was a shared feeling of helplessness as crowds gathered and watched the animal’s weak attempts to escape. As the tide rose around the whale, a number of people ventured forth to try to push the whale offshore but were turned back by East Hampton Marine Patrol officers and East Hampton Town Police citing a safety issue. The whale might have been young, but it was 20 feet long, weighed thousands of pounds, and was wedged between and on top of large rocks.
Ed Michels, East Hampton Town's senior harbormaster, said that because whales were federally protected officers were required to wait for experts with the knowledge and authority to act.
At noon, members of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation arrived. Kim Durham, an experienced marine biologist, quickly assessed the situation. She explained that even under the best of circumstances, even if the whale was uninjured and could be towed into deeper water, “it is a dependent calf,” a yearling not yet weaned from its mother. “It would starve to death,” she said. The whale was bleeding, likely from internal injuries.
Ms. Durham said the foundation was sensitive to the public’s concerns in light of the anger and criticism that resulted from what appeared to be delayed and botched efforts to euthanize a humpback whale stranded near Main Beach in East Hampton Village in March 2010.
She explained that putting such a large animal down was not easy, but would be done if it did not die naturally. Just after noon, she said she did not expect the whale to live much longer. The scientist said the foundation would make an effort to study the whale to see what caused it to come ashore.