WILMINGTON -- A deceased Minke whale washes ashore in Carolina Beach leaving UNC Wilmington researchers and local residents wondering how he died. Someone found the whale near Harper Avenue Wednesday evening. Thursday morning, UNCW researchers started the necropsy, or animal autopsy. All this brought a large crowd to Carolina Beach.
"This is amazing and it's a good experience," said Ayla Adamec, a spectator.
The experience got Adamec and 9-year old Mia Scott out of school.
"We went to my school and got my work and we were able to come here and watch it," said Scott.
She and many others watched UNCW students and faculty perform the necropsy. The researchers said it's a male, juvenile Minke Whale. He's about 15 feet long and around 2 years old. The students doing the work are part of the UNCW Marine Mammal Stranding Program.
"It's a really cool learning experience," said Brandy Velten, a UNCW student. "I am getting a lot of hands-on experience with these guys. It's something not everyone gets to do."
At first glance, researchers saw shark bites.
"Some of the researchers suspect sharks might be the White Shark and/or a Dusky Shark, which obtain sizes large enough to exhibit those bite diameters," said Paul Barrington with the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
After further research, the scientists confirmed that the shark bites came after the whale was dead.
"A live whale, they like to attack right around the base of the tale, in the genital region. That seems to be the area where the whale can't see," said William McLellan, UNCW state stranding coordinator. "Just the fact that it was feeding on its mouth, the whale would have known a shark was there."
After the necropsy, the researchers took the skeleton, the organs and pieces of tissue back to a lab, and they said what's left will be buried right there.
"There will be a big pit dug, the crabs have to have something to eat too," said McLellan.
Researchers believe the whale died from lung failure. They found seven propeller wounds. They had healed but researchers said they caused internal damage. It could take a month or so to confirm the cause of death.
McLellan said the state see its fair share of whale strandings, but they are more common on the Outer Banks.