Tragic ending as rescuers fail to rescue beached sperm whale off Oak Island

Attempts to rescue a juvenile whale that was trapped in the surf here Thursday morning tragically failed and experts euthanized the whale late Thursday afternoon.

The young, 27-foot sperm whale, which appeared to be injured and in distress according to experts on the scene from UNC-Wilmington’s Stranding Response Team, was stranded in the surf near the Ocean Crest Pier at 22nd Street and East Beach Drive on this southeastern North Carolina island.

The decision to euthanize the whale apparently was taken shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday and it was euthanized at about 5:15 p.m.

A member of the UNC-W team said the whale had been treated with sedatives and anaesthetics earlier Thursday afternoon. She added that the whale was a male, two to three years old and had been tagged and followed for the last two to three months off the Oak Island area, which is rare for whales of its species.

She said the whale appeared to be emaciated and illness may have been the reason for its beaching Thursday.

She said sperm whales tend to congregate about 100 miles off Cape Hatteras in colder waters. She suggested that because sperm whales’ favorite food is squid, a food source like that might have led to the young whale remaining in the warm waters of southeastern North Carolina.

Experts Thursday afternoon had been awaiting the arrival of high tide in hopes that the whale would break free and head back to sea.

The tide was supposed to reach its highest point at 6:41 p.m. Thursday. The whale, first reported trapped at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, was caught in low waters as the tide was falling to its lowest point at 12:39 p.m. Thursday.

The pier is the same one where a 13-year-old girl lost an arm in a shark attack that made national headlines on June 15, 2015.

Some 90 minutes after the girl was attacked, a 16-year-old boy lost an arm to a shark about 30 blocks east of the same pier.

The UNCW expert said her team did not see any sharks in the area Thursday and could not see any shark bites on the stranded whale.

Witnesses at the same said the euthanization was taking place by two people using a yard-long pole/tube through which several bottles of liquid were being pumped.

Gigi Donovan, news@heraldsun.com

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