Aquarium hoping for a good look at a rare find

Photo courtesy of Karl Eiriksson Jr. The carcass of a Cuvier’s beaked whale, rarely seen in coastal waters, lies on Fishers Island, where it was discovered Thursday by Karl and Lisa Eiriksson. Members of the Mystic Aquarium Animal Rescue Team are hoping they will have a chance to examine the rare specimen.

Members of the Mystic Aquarium Animal Rescue Team may get a rare opportunity to examine the body of a Cuvier's beaked whale that was found washed ashore Thursday on Fishers Island in the area of Hungry Point.

Janelle Schuh, stranding coordinator for the aquarium, said she is hoping to get a team to the island on Sunday but is having a hard time finding a boat that hasn't been stored for the winter to get them there.

"This is an interesting stranding for us," Schuh said. "This is the first confirmed Cuvier that we have on our records at the aquarium, and we've been responding to strandings since the 1970s."

Schuh said the whale, which can grow upward of 20 feet in length, is found mostly in the open waters of most oceans, but rarely near a coastline. The males weigh about 6,000 pounds, the females about 7,000.

The Cuvier's beaked whale, also known as the goosebeak whale, is one of 20 named species of beaked whales, according to the American Cetacean Society. Its forehead slopes to a poorly defined short beak, and its mouth turns upward, giving it a goose-like profile, the society says. It is so rarely seen that nearly everything known about it has come from studying stranded animals.

Karl Eiriksson Jr. and his wife, Lisa, found the whale carcass.

Lisa Eiriksson is filling in for Justine Kibbe, a naturalist for the Fishers Island Conservancy, while Kibbe is out of town. The Eirikssons were counting harbor seals when they saw a large object in the distance. They were having a good day, as they had counted 243 seals - the most they had found in a single day. They took pictures of the carcass, which was about 18 feet long, and sent them to the aquarium for identification.

"When we got down there, we thought it was a rowboat upside down," Karl Eiriksson said. "Then when we realized it was an animal, we thought it was a pilot whale. It was neat to find out that it could be a Cuvier's beaked whale."

Eiriksson said the whale was intact but had obviously been dead for some time.

Schuh said the goal is to perform a necropsy and collect some skeletal and tissue samples and have them archived. Because the whale appears to have been dead for some time, she said, getting an exact cause of death would be unlikely.

i.larrañeta@theday.com

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