November 28, 2022

Smithsonian expert to study whale remains

CAMDEN — The remains of a rare whale that recently beached itself on a Maine Island have been shipped to scientists at the Smithsonian Institution.

A True’s beaked whale, one of the world’s rarest whales, died shortly after it came to rest on Curtis island a few weeks ago. Its organs have gone to Dr. James A. Mead at the Smithsonian, who is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on the whale.

When Dee Dee Conover, a caretaker at the Curtis Island Lighthouse, watched the whale come ashore she thought it was a large, sick dolphin that was trying to talk to her.

So Conover talked back hoping that her words would soothe the animal.

Instead, its tail flipped back and forth, blood poured onto the rocks and the whale moaned and died.

“The tail just stopped and that was it,” she said.

A crew from Allied Whale, a whale research group at the College of the Atlantic, hauled the 13-foot-long whale away on a boat trailer. An autopsy revealed the whale was a sexually immature female but could not pinpoint the cause of death.

Three beaked whales have been found stranded between Newfoundland and Cape Cod. A total of 16 have been found in North America and six in Europe. The whales also have been found on the South African coast.

The last Maine sighting was in 1906 in Wells Beach.

“For people around here, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime sighting,” said Tom Fernald at College of the Atlantic. “Most whale researchers have never seen this animal.”

The college may put the Camden whale skeleton on display, said Fernald.

The whales are believed to grow as large as 17 feet. They have grooves on the jaw, several teeth and are thought to dine mostly on squid.

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