Treatment of beached whale followed the law, officials say

People were outraged over how local law enforcement treated a pygmy sperm whale that washed ashore in Myrtle Beach Sunday afternoon.

The whale was beached for about four hours and was left on the beach as hundreds of people watched to see what would happen.

But Myrtle Beach law enforcement officials did everything they were supposed to do when deadling with a live beached whale.

A NOAA wildlife biologist said there are certain rules law enforcement has to follow in this type of a situation.

"Sgt. Cane and his staff did exactly what they were supposed to do. And we have to wait 'til a vet gets there in order to assess the animal," said Wayne McFee, a research wildlife biologist with NOAA. "If that takes time then that's the way its going to be."

NOAA officials responded to a live beached pygmy sperm whale on Saturday in Hilton Head and were finishing work in the area when they received a call about the beached whale in Myrtle Beach.

"One of the problems is that we don't have a lot of staff and we so rely on these volunteer networks," McFee said. "On the weekends are not the best time to get people because it is an all voluntary situation."

Pygmy sperm whales are the second most common stranded species in South Carolina. The most common is the bottle nose dolphin.

Doctor Robert Young with the marine science program at Coastal Carolina University says the whales will instinctively beach themselves when they're going to die.

"From a past experience if you push them back out, that means they are just going to wash up a little while later down the beach. So you would have to do the whole thing all over again," said Young.

Young says people's first instincts are to push the whale back into the ocean.

But under the marine protect act, you must have a permit to handle mammals.

"People that are employed by state, town or local municipalities or federal government employees can handle marine mammals, but the public can not," said McFee. "That's the way the law is written."

NOAA called in a veterinarian from Georgetown to respond to the scene and assess the animal. It was later euthanized by marine specialists.

Young says there has been no success rehabilitating these types of whales, so when they are found standed alive that is the only choice for the animal.

The pygmy sperm whale has never been kept alive in captivity for more than 22 months.

"They do not do well in captivity," said McFee. "All pygmy sperm whales are being euthanized at this point."

McFee also said South Carolina does not have a rehabilitation center for marine mammals since there aren't enough live stranded animals in the state to justify the cost of having a standing center for rehabilitation.

A necropsy was performed on the whale in Myrtle Beach Monday morning and showed that the whale had an enlarged heart.

But Young says that is common among this species, about found in about 60 percent of pygmy whales, and is not necessarily the cause of death.