Stranded animal identified

The whale that washed up on a reef in Little Cayman over the bank holiday weekend this month has been confirmed to be a young sperm whale.

whale on beach

Shark bites are shown on the stranded sperm whale.
Photo: Submitted

Initial identification of the whale by marine experts indicated it could be a false killer whale, but the Caribbean Stranding Network, having examined photographs of the dead whale, identified it as a male sperm whale.

Dr. Antonio Mignucci of the Caribbean Stranding Network confirmed to Cayman Islands Department of Environment that the animal was a young male whale.

‘The young male, about a year old, probably got sick (like everybody does) and stranded after death or moribund.

‘[It’s] hard to tell from the photos, although from the pictures I can tell the sharks were taking advantage of him either dead or in weak state. Without a proper necropsy, the final cause of death can’t be determined,’ Mr. Mignucci said.

Witnesses photographed big shark bites, measuring up to 12 inches in diameter, on the whale’s body.

Sperm whales are normally found in the Caribbean. Since 1966, the Caribbean Stranding Network has documented 21 strandings of sperm whales in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

‘We have documented strandings of calves as well as adults. The calf strandings mean that they reproduce and breed in the Caribbean. Sperm whales are pelagic and are found near the shelf edge or offshore,’ Mr. Mignucci explained.

He added that Cayman, as offshore islands with a deep trench running to the south is a perfect habitat for sperm whales, ‘especially that southern portion, where the depth changes rapidly and should be full of the tasty squid that sperm whales prefer to hunt at great depths’.

Janice Blumenthal, a research officer with the Department of Environment explained that baby sperm whales are born at a length of about 11 feet and that males grow to more than 60 feet while females grow to about 30 feet.

‘Since the stranded animal was nearly 20 feet long, yet the teeth were small, we can confirm that it was a very young male rather than a sub-adult female,’ she said.

The whale was first spotted on a reef west of Owen Island, outside the Little Cayman Beach Resort early on Saturday, 13 June.

It sat there for three days before waves washed it into the lagoon. At that point, it was tied to a buoy, but as the body decomposed, it became separated from the buoy and floated westward, coming to rest on the shore between the Hungry Iguana restaurant and the Customs House.

Department of Environment Sister Islands Marine Parks Officer Robert Walton and colleagues from other government departments, tied the remains of the whale, which was by then extremely decomposed, to a boat and towed it two and a half miles out to sea.