A large creature made a rare, and ultimately sad, visit to Galveston Island Tuesday morning.
A 40-foot whale that beached itself in the surf off the West End died about five hours after it was reported to wildlife rescuers
The whale’s species was identified as a Sei Whale, which is in the Blue Whale family. It was 45 feet long and was stranded about 30 yards offshore near the Terramar subdivision.
Heidi Whitehead, the director of the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, said the animal was likely injured or sick when it became stranded.
Members of the network waded into the water early in the morning to assess the animal, but couldn’t get very close because of the waves and its size.
“The whale is definitely exhibiting poor body condition; it’s likely very ill,” Whitehead said before the animal was declared dead.
“It’s a deep-diving species,” she said. “For an animal like that to be this close to shore it’s usually in very poor condition.”
The whale could be seen flailing in surf, sometimes raising its tail or flippers.
The whale was first spotted at about 7:15 a.m. by a jogger on the beach.
“I saw something that looked like a log until I saw a fin roll up and I realized it was a whale,” Bob Majewski, the jogger, said.
“I ran back home and called my neighbor, who knew who to call, and then I came back down to see if it was alive,” Majewski said.
“It was still blowing out of the blowhole. It was still kicking.”
Whitehead said that the animal would have been euthanized if it came closer to shore and could be reached safely by wildlife officials. They ended up not having to take that step. The animal was declared dead about 12:30 p.m.
After it died, the whale was towed onto the beach by heavy construction equipment
A necropsy will be performed on the whale Wednesday afternoon to determine how it died. The whale’s carcass will be left on the beach overnight. There will be people guarding the carcass until the necropsy is performed.
After the necropsy is performed, the whale is expected to be buried on the beach where it pulled ashore.
Throughout the day, hundreds of people showed up on the beach near where the whale was stuck to get a glimpse of the creature. Cars were parked for miles along state Highway 3005 as people traveled to the far west of the island to catch a glimpse of the rare sight.
“We heard on the news this morning that it was beached, and we thought that we’d come out see if we could help,” said Mel Kennedy, a Galveston resident.
In 35 years, Kennedy said she’d never seen a whale of this size wash onto the beach.
“There’s been other rescues,” she said. “But never a whale.”
It’s rare, but not unheard of, for a whale to beach itself on the Texas Coast, said Chris Marshall, an assistant professor of marine biology at Texas A&M University in Galveston.
“When things like this happen, it’s usually a medical problem,” Marshall said. Most of the time, beached whales end up dying, he said.
A spokeswoman from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said that the whale was the first large whale to be stranded on the Texas Gulf Coast this year.
Whales have washed ashore on Galveston beaches before, although they’re typically smaller species such as pygmy sperm whales. The Marine Mammal Stranding Network also frequently rescues and rehabilitates dolphins.
But large whales have beached themselves on the Texas coast before. In 2012, a large baleen whale was found on Matagorda Island.
It’s not clear why whales beach themselves, Marshall said. It could be confusion due to illness, or instinct when the animal nears the end of its life.
“We really just don’t have really good answers,” Marshall said.