Young humpback makes brief Katama Bay stop
This is a whale of a tale. Sometime Sunday a young humpback whale became stranded on a sandbar in Katama Bay but managed to free itself overnight.
On Monday morning the whale swam past startled Derby fishermen on the shore in Edgartown Harbor and out into Nantucket Sound, apparently no worse for its youthful adventure.
To call the timing of the whale's visit a coincidence would be an understatement. On Sunday, New England Aquarium marine biologists Kate Sardi and Kerry McNally had finished a training workshop for the Vineyard's marine animal rescue team and were about to board the ferry back to the mainland about 5 pm, when they received a call from Boston of a live whale stranding.
The stranding of a large whale alive is a very unusual event and aquarium staff could recall just a handful over the past 20 years, according to a press release. Most of those incidents had sad endings, said an aquarium spokesman.
David Grunden, Oak Bluffs shellfish constable and one of the aquarium's local volunteers, was one of those who participated in the workshop. With daylight fading on a rainy, stormy Sunday, a team that included Mr. Grunden and the aquarium biologists boarded Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall's boat and headed out to where the whale was located in the southwest corner of the bay.
The whale was about 500 yards from Norton Point, the barrier beach that separates Katama Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, stuck on a sandbar surrounded by about four feet of water. It appeared to be about 20 to 23 feet long and did not display any obvious injury or gear entanglement, said the aquarium press release.
As the biologists and Mr. Bagnall got nearer, the animal became more distressed and thrashed about. The rescue team moved away to reduce the whale's anxiety, and eventually they decided reluctantly to leave the scene.
Aquarium biologists suspect the humpback swam through the breach in the barrier beach at high tide. The next high tide was about 5 am Monday morning, when the whale likely was able to leave the shoal.
At first light Monday, a team that included Mr. Grunden and his wife Sharry reassembled. To their surprise, the whale was gone.
At 8:30 am, they received a call that the whale had been sighted near the Edgartown Harbor lighthouse. They caught up to the whale outside the harbor.
"It was very, very unusual," Mr. Grunden told The Times. He said that the whale narrowly avoided a collision with the On Time ferry as it swam out of the harbor and into Nantucket Sound. The stranding team followed the whale for approximately two miles.
The young whale breached, raised its tail out of the water, and was generally very active at the surface, just the way a young humpback should act, the aquarium said.