Alarming Development: Whales Endanger Hamptons

On Sunday, January 13, two dead whales came through the surf and beached in the Hamptons less than three hours apart. The first one, a 57-foot finback whale, washed up on the beach in Napeague. The second one, a much smaller pygmy sperm whale, washed up later in the day in Amagansett.

Both whales had to be dealt with by the authorities. The giant finback, which weighed approximately 40 to 50 tons, was buried several days later where she lay right on the ocean in Napeague at a cost of many thousands of dollars. A lot of heavy construction equipment was involved.

The pygmy sperm whale, which weighed less than 200 pounds, was taken to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation but was euthanized that same day to put him out of his pain. A necropsy conducted later that day determined the sperm whale died suffering from a host of problems.

Small whales often wash up on the beaches in the Hamptons, although Rob DiGiovanni, the director for the foundation, says that in recent years the numbers of them have been increasing. Smaller whales are not the problem, however. The real alarming problem is the increasing frequency of beachings by giant hundred-ton behemoths.

Dan’s Papers has been in business since 1960 and over the years has written accounts of every giant whale, usually finbacks, that has come ashore here.

We have a record of one beaching in Montauk in 1979. Then we had one beaching on Meadow Lane in Southampton in the spring of 2005. This was a 64-foot finback, and she was buried where she lay a week later. Then, in April of 2010 there was a giant whale that beached just to the east of the jetty that is on the east side of Main Beach in East Hampton. It caused quite a stir because it came ashore, all five tons of it, while it was still alive and struggling. It was finally darted and euthanized. And after that, it too was buried where it lay. It’s an expensive business, burying the remains of a whale this size, but there is no alternative. After a week, as they say, fish smell.

Next, a 57-foot-long whale washed ashore near the beach pavilion in Hampton Bays on August 10, 2012.

Finally there were these two a few weeks ago.

If you look closely at this situation with the giants, however, you will notice a trend. There were none beached between 1960 and 1978.  Then there was one in 1979, then another in 2005, then the next in 2010, another in 2012 and now this 57-foot monster in 2013. The pace of these beachings, as with the pace of the smaller whales beached, is increasing. A computer study, following the rules of computer modeling, has predicted that there will be one more giant whale beaching here this year, then perhaps five in 2014 and then a whole inundation of as many as 20 of them in 2015. After that, the sky’s the limit. And we will have a very serious situation indeed.

The cause of this increase, of course, is global warming. Before 1975 there was no global warming. Now it is all over the place. Some say it is the result of natural causes, others say it is the result of pollution. In any case, the dead whales are coming, coming in ever increasing numbers, probably fleeing north through the warming waters of the ocean to find someplace where the water is more to their liking.

There is nothing we can do about this, of course. The problem of  global warming is at least, so far, unstoppable. Indeed, in spite of all the weather disasters, there is as yet no national or international commitment to stop it.

We can, however, prepare ourselves to deal with the increasing inundation of giant dead whales, which are sure to come.

If you live in a beachfront home, the first thing you should do is to check that your home is insured by your insurance company against beached whales. Get a copy of your policy and read it carefully. Sometimes the wording will show you are insured against the crushing weight of a dead whale already on the beach being sucked back out with the tide. Or you may be insured against any dead whale that rises up out of the sand. But if it does not insure you for a dead whale that is being brought in through the surf by the tide, it is not going to help you when push comes to shove.

Install a whale-sensing surveillance device between the beach and your house. These devices take a digital picture of the surf every one minute and transmit the image to your computer for analysis. If a giant whale is detected and you have the right software, an audible alarm will sound, ordering everyone out of the house and off to someplace inland. It can be made to work even if your computer is not turned on.

If the town considers such surveillance cameras to be against the law—either because they invade people’s rights to walk the beaches without being snooped upon or because of environmental concern about the effects of such devices on endangered species such as piping plovers or spotted tiger salamanders—set up a neighborhood watch 24/7. Keep a clipboard so you know who is to be on duty and when, and be the enforcer.

Write to our President to see that beached dead whale attacks are included in the definition of “state of emergencies” that will trigger the spending of federal funds to restore things to the way they were before. Burying 10 giant finbacks on every beach in the Hamptons can cost billions. This is nothing to sneeze at.

Finally, find investors willing to invest in companies that can market different parts of dead whales. Parts can be used as a replacement for plastic, as an environmentally safe fuel for lighting or powering automobiles, or for food. There are thousands of recipes for the cooking of whale, either as an oil for salads, steaks for main courses, whalebones for soup or blubber for winter-coat linings.

The most important thing, however, is memorizing the dead whale safety tips. A 100-ton dead whale rolling through the surf onto the beach is nothing you want to get caught under. Learn the techniques. Know how to warn others. Keep your reflexes sharp (if you must.) You don’t want to be taking this lying down. And remember, you can always build yourself a new house. You and your family members come first.

And finally, get yourself a dog. They say dogs can hear high-pitched sounds that humans cannot. It’s said that whales emit high-pitched sounds. Be sure you get a chatterbox of a dog, one that will begin barking at the first sign of a whale intervention.

And remember the mantra: Detect, Run, Get Help. Those four words say it all.

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