The humpback whale that has been beached in East Hampton since Tuesday morning survived the first attempts to euthanize it overnight Wednesday, according to officials at Main Beach.
Members of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association said they attempted to put down the animal with darts but it survived the “cocktail” of chemicals.
“We tried the solution that a vet panel recommended,” said David Morin, a marine mammal biologist with NOAA. “It’s not an exact science. Sometimes these things don’t go according to plan.”
Mr. Morin described the whale’s condition as “Okay, but definitely not comfortable.”
Around 11 a.m. on Thursday, Mr. Morin and Rob DiGiovanni, a senior biologist and director at the Riverhead Foundation, held a small press conference at the beach and announced the next course of action would be to get a line around the whale’s tail and eventually move it closer to shore. Mr. Morin said part of the complication in trying to do anything with the whale is its location in the surf, where breaking waves could knock over someone trying to get closer to the whale.
“It’s not as simple as bringing your dog or cat to the vet for an injection,” he said. He estimated the whale weighs about 10,000 pounds and he said the drugs needed to euthanize it are a “very high concentration of sedatives.”
“They are extremely dangerous to handle,” he said.
Mr. DiGiovanni was fielding questions from concerned observers mid-Thursday morning. Ellen Goldberg, who was among the first to see the beached whale on Tuesday, has been back every day since and was one of those questioning Mr. DiGiovanni on Thursday.
Ms. Goldberg said she believed the Riverhead Foundation could have done more for the animal and should have attempted to rescue it.
Mr. DiGiovanni defended the foundation’s course of action and said that putting the sick animal out to sea would not have been more humane.
“That would be like me saying, ‘You’re sick, so you stand over there where I can’t see you,’” he told Ms. Goldberg.
Saskia Friedrich also stopped outside the police tape on Thursday to talk to Mr. DiGiovanni. She also said she had wanted to see a rescue.
“I think everyone was longing to see that,” she said. “At least if it did die, it would be in its natural environment, which would be better than euthanizing it.”
Chuck Bowman, president of the Riverhead Foundation, was not present at Main Beach at the time, but officials said he was there earlier on Thursday.
Mr. Bowman said on Wednesday that the foundation does not have the types of drugs or equipment it would take to euthanize the 25-foot-long adolescent whale with 8- to 12-inch thick skin and blubber, and that NOAA would determine the proper course of action.
On Tuesday, spectators reported seeing another whale swimming offshore and questioned whether it could be the calf’s mother. Mr. Bowman said there was a single whale swimming east and west that doubled back a number of times but he doubted that it was a relative of the beached whale. He said he also heard a report of a pod of humpback whales that were off Montauk and heading north, and said either the beached whale or the other could have been part of that pod.
“This was a single whale and it wasn’t acting like a mother searching for its calf,” he said. “Of course, that’s all speculation on my part. We really don’t know.”
Mr. Bowman estimated that up to 1,000 people came and went on Tuesday. The whale was still a major attraction in East Hampton on Wednesday and Thursday with a steady stream of people walking from the Main Beach parking lot to the roped off section where the whale is located. On Wednesday morning, members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation stood nearby the whale in a prayer ceremony honoring the animal.
Mr. Bowman said after the whale dies members of the foundation would perform a necropsy and bury the whale in the dunes.