Rare pygmy sperm whale washes up in Ipswich  

Courtesy photoThis pygmy sperm whale died after washing up on Steep Hill Beach near the mouth of the Ipswich River on Tuesday.

IPSWICH — A pygmy sperm whale died after washing ashore on Tuesday.

The small, rare whale washed up on Steep Hill Beach near the mouth of the Ipswich River.

When beach-goers found the whale, it was still alive. Ipswich Police and local park managers were notified and contacted the marine mammal rescue staff from the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, New Hampshire.

The 9 ½-foot adult whale weighed about 800 pounds. The stocky bodied-whale with a shark-like head was bloodied, but it is unclear the injuries were sustained from thrashing about in the shallow water.

Biologists from the New England Aquarium arrived to assist the Seacoast Science Center staff.

The carcass was expected to be removed last night or early Wednesday for transport to the aquarium’s Quincy facility for a necropsy.

Pygmy sperm whale strandings are rare in New England according to aquarium staff who said they can only recall two or three in the last 15 years. The most recent one was on Martha’s Vineyard in 2009. The species is normally found on the edge of the continental shelf, more than 100 miles out to sea, experts said.

While strandings of pygmy sperm whales in New England are unusual, they are the second most common marine mammal found washed up on beaches in the southeastern states, particularly Florida.

Two common causes of mortality are vessel strikes and consumption of plastic debris. The aquarium’s necropsy team will look for evidence of trauma from a possible collision with a boat as the whales are often float motionless on the surface in small groups.

Biologist will also look for plastic debris that might have obstructed the intestinal tract. Being squid feeders, pygmy sperm whales often mistake a plastic bag undulating in the water for squid, their favorite food, but with often fatal results.