August 5, 2021

Pygmy sperm whale dies after washing ashore Cayman Islands

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1-1 GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands – A rare pygmy sperm whale has washed ashore the Cayman Islands and died.

Officials with the Department of Environment say a necropsy will be performed to determine why the whale died. A agency deputy director Tim Austin, told The Caymanian Compass newspaper on Friday that the whale was 9 feet (3 metres) long and did not present any obvious signs as to why it stranded itself. He said the whale was apparently alive when spotted late Thursday by residents on Beach Bay in Grand Cayman.

Pygmy sperm whales are elusive and live deep in the waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

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From Wikipedia

There has been debate and differing opinion as to the correct classification of the pygmy and dwarf sperm whales (see sperm whale family for details). The two were widely considered to be the same species, until 1966, when a scientist at the Smithsonian Institution definitively identified them as separate species. The pygmy sperm whale was first named by Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville in 1838.

The pygmy sperm whale is not much larger than many dolphins. They are about 1.2 metres (3 ft 11 in) at birth, growing to about 3.5 metres (11 ft) at maturity. Adults weigh about 400 kilograms (880 lb). The underside is a creamy, occasionally pinkish, colour and the back and sides are a bluish grey; there is, however, considerable intermixing between the two colours. The shark-like head is large in comparison to body size, given an almost swollen appearance when viewed from the side. There is a whitish marking, often described as a “false gill”, behind each eye.

The lower jaw is very small and slung low. The blowhole is displaced slightly to the left when viewed from above facing forward. The dorsal fin is very small and hooked; its size is considerably smaller than that of the dwarf sperm whale and may be used for diagnostic purposes. The pygmy sperm has between 20 and 32 teeth, all of which are set into the lower jaw. Unusually, this species teeth lack enamel due to a mutation in the necessary gene, although enamel is present in very young individuals.

The whale makes very inconspicuous movements. It rises to the surface slowly, with little splash or blow, and will remain there motionless for some time. In Japan the whale was historically known as the “floating whale” because of this. Its dive is equally lacking in grand flourish – it simply drops out of view. The species has a tendency to back away from rather than approach boats. Breaching has been observed, but is not common.

Pygmy sperm whales are normally either solitary, or found in pairs but have been seen in groups of up to six.[citation needed] Dives have been estimated to last an average of eleven minutes, although longer dives of up to 45 minutes have been reported. The ultrasonic clicks of pygmy sperm whales range from 60 to 200 kHz, peaking at 125 kHz, and the animals also make much lower frequency “cries” at 1 to 2 kHz.

Analysis of stomach contents suggests that pygmy sperm whales feed primarily on cephalopods, most commonly including bioluminescent species found in midwater environments. The most common prey are reported to include glass squid, and lycoteuthid and ommastrephid squid, although the whales also consume other squid, and octopuses. They have also been reported to eat some deep-sea shrimps, but, compared with dwarf sperm whales, relatively few fish.

Predators may include great white sharks and killer whales.

Pygmy sperm whales are found throughout the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. However, they are rarely sighted at sea, so most data come from stranded animals – making a precise range and migration map difficult. They are believed to prefer off-shore waters, and are most frequently sites in waters ranging from 400 to 1,000 metres (1,300 to 3,300 ft) in depth, especially where upwelling water produces local concentrations of zooplankton and animal prey. Their status is usually described as rare, but occasional patches of higher density of strandings suggest it may be rather more common than previously supposed. The total population is unknown.

The pygmy sperm whale is covered by the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas (ASCOBANS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS). The species is further included in the Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Conservation of the Manatee and Small Cetaceans of Western Africa and Macaronesia (Western African Aquatic Mammals MoU) and the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region (Pacific Cetaceans MoU)

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