The exact cause of death for a mother Pygmy sperm whale, that came ashore last week in the Lake Arrowhead area of Horry County with her calf, continues to remain a mystery.
A necropsy showed the mother did have a common heart condition for that species, which could have contributed to her death, said Robert Young, a marine science professor with Coastal Carolina University.
Results of the necropsy showed an enlarged ventricle of her heart, Young said Tuesday.
“That’s common for strandings of that species that may have been a cause of death, but it’s not definitive,” Young said.
The mother whale, who was a full-grown adult and was about 11 feet long, did not have any interactions with humans before her death, Young said. Officials took tissue samples for additional testing and those results are expected to take several weeks before being returned.
The mother Pygmy sperm whale and her calf, who was less than a year old, came ashore about 50 yards apart Thursday on the beach north of Apache Pier near Kingston Plantation. Officials were called about 9 a.m. Thursday for the incident.
The calf was euthanized after being taken to Ark Animal Hospital for treatment, officials said. Veterinarians from the hospital came to the beach and evaluated the calf and sedated it for comfort.
It would be difficult for the baby to survive without her mother because being less than a year old the calf was completely dependent on the mother, Young said Thursday.
“It’s dependent calf, a few months old, and the species doesn’t rehab well,” Young said during the incident.
It was a rare occurrence for officials in the Grand Strand area because volunteers with the South Carolina Marine Mammal Stranding Network don’t typically get calls about whale strandings, he said. Bottlenose dolphins are the most common type animal to come ashore in the area.
“It is always a sad event to see that occur,” Young said.
Beachgoers should contact authorities if they see a marine mammal come ashore and not try to return it to the ocean because typically they are sick when they come to the beach, Young said.
The pygmy sperm whale lives 60 to 70 miles offshore at the edge of the continental shelf, Young said. They can grow to weigh 700 to 1,000 pounds.
Hundreds of beachgoers took photos and asked questions about the whales on Thursday. Many of them – on vacation – said the experience was an experience of a lifetime.