Monday, July 13, 2015

Exploding Whales and Other Sea Life

Deceased Juvenile Humpback Whale
Hello my name is Nicholas Fitzke and I am the ProRanger currently stationed at Fire Island National Seashore.

Warning: This article contains graphic images of dead and dissected sea life. 

It was a sad day when we heard the news that a young Humpback Whale had washed ashore in one of the 17 communities on Fire Island. After asking around I came to the understanding that sea life often washes ashore here, ranging from dolphins to sea turtles. The park service's role in these kinds of situation is to provide a safe environment both for researchers and the public. These kinds of biological events can attract many people and this was definitely true on this occasion.

I'm sure at least some of you have seen the videos online of exploding whales. When an animal dies the gasses in the body can cause bloating. If the gas is not released properly there can be an explosive reaction. Thankfully the organization that helped with the autopsy of our large friend knew what they were doing and things went very smoothly. Anti-climactic you say? Perhaps but an investigation into how this marvelous best died was still to take place. 

Humpbacks can grow up to 50 feet long. Our friend was only around 25 feet. This helped the researchers discover the age and maturity of this particular whale. My role in all of this was to stand by and answer any questions from the public and to keep people behind the fence. There was a consistent flow of viewers and even some that brought chairs to gaze upon this glorious creature as the scientists ripped into its tough hide.

It was a long and very smelly day but after hours of taking samples and examination the initial findings suggested that the cause of death was boat strike. A prime example of the effect humans can have on the natural world. But this incident wasn't the only creature that I was assigned to work on.

Another day I was assigned to move two dead sea turtles that had washed ashore. This required a lot more of my participation than the whale incident. Alongside other members of the NPS staff I helped locate, carry, and deliver the two to the same foundation that was working on the whale.

Sea Turtle
This was also a smelly endeavor. Recently there have been Man O' Wars washing up on shore which might account for an increase of turtles in the area. This in turn leads to more sharks in the water. My supervising ranger said that he saw a school of Hammerheads just a day before these turtles washed up. I don't know their cause of death was but one of the turtles was missing its head and both front flippers.

If you want to learn more about sea life and the foundation that was assisting the NPS you can visit their website at:

Check back next week for my experience tracking deer and more SCIENCE!

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