A beached pygmy sperm whale was discovered Thursday, Jan. 8, at Point Reyes National Seashore, appearing to have already been stranded for hours before beach-goers found it. Unfortunately, officials weren't able to determine the whale's exact location in time, postponing evacuation until Friday morning because it's already too dark.
The Marine Mammal Center received reports of the beached whale close to Abbotts Lagoon at around 3:30 p.m. but did not get confirmation that it was still alive until around 6 p.m. By then, it was already too dark to safely reach the whale.
According to Laura Sherr, center spokesperson, it was a very difficult situation.
"We're committed to marine mammals and their humane treatment. We want to do everything we can, but we have to put human safety first. We just can't go out at this point to do anything for the animal," she said.
Tentatively, the whale was identified to be of the pygmy sperm kind, but scientists are not able to tell its gender or age just from pictures.
Shelbi Stoudt, Marine Mammal Center stranding and data manager, said that whale strandings are generally rare. In particular, pygmy sperm whales are not usually spotted on shore, dead or alive, because they reside deep below the surface of the water.
It's still not clear how long the whale has been stranded since it was discovered, but Stoudt pointed out that whales don't survive being out of the water for long.
"Their bodies are not designed to be on solid surfaces. When they are on solid surfaces for extended time, that can do damage to their internal organs," she explained.
Pygmy sperm whales and dwarf sperm whales are usually confused with each other. The former, however, is known for its blunt head and white underbelly. Like the actual sperm whale, a pygmy sperm whale only has a few teeth on its upper jaw but sports a full set on its lower jaw. It looks like a great white shark at first glance but a closer look at its horizontal tail fin clarifies it is the marine mammal.
Some reports have arisen that the beached pygmy sperm whale is bloodied, having suffered an injury but nothing is official yet at this point. It also appears to be around five or six feet in length, definitely small, so the stranded whale is still a calf.