NEW YORK (AP) – A young whale thrashed the water, beached itself at an oil depot dock and died unexpectedly on Wednesday after two days of swimming aimlessly in a small bay off an industrial section of Brooklyn.

Animal activists said the minke whale, about a year old, had been too young to survive on its own.

“It’s very sad,” said Kim Durham, a rescue specialist at the Long Island-based Riverhead Foundation for Research and Preservation, who had monitored the troubled animal’s activities around the clock. “It was a very young whale that became confused and disoriented.”

Earlier, experts had reported seeing nothing to indicate the mammal was sick, such as swimming erratically or in tight circles. With only the whale’s dorsal fin visible at times, observers could only guess whether it might have been injured.

Durham had expressed hope earlier that the whale would find its way back into open water in New York harbor. But she said the situation took a bad turn in the early afternoon, when the whale’s swimming patterns changed.

Durham said a colleague, marine biologist Robert DiGiovanni, was observing the animal when “it suddenly began heavy splashing, hit the dock and then just went quiet.”

The whale died about 5 p.m. The end was witnessed by spectators who had been drawn to the dock area in Gowanus Bay by news accounts of the whale.

A police harbor boat secured the whale’s carcass, estimated to weigh about 3,500 to 5,000 pounds, to the Hess Oil Co. dock, where it was to remain overnight.

It was to be towed to an Army Corps of Engineers dock at Caven Point, in Jersey City, N.J., on Thursday for a necropsy by Riverhead marine experts, according to Peter Shugert, a Corps spokesman.

Durham had said earlier that “something’s not right” about the whale’s condition and where it was.

“It would be great if we could say to the whale, “Say, “Ahhh,” and stick your tongue out,”‘ she said.

The whale was first spotted on Tuesday in Gowanus Bay, a small estuary off industrial south Brooklyn that is the outlet from the Gowanus canal, a narrow 1.2-mile waterway once lined with pollution-generating coal yards, scrap yards and small industries.

The canal has improved in recent years due to environmental cleanup efforts.

After a huge underwater fan, designed to keep the water flowing, was reactivated, crabs and other marine creatures began turning up.

But Robert Guskind, founder of Gowanuslounge.com, said the recent major storm would have sent more raw sewage into the canal.

He said the whale story had generated a lot of traffic on his Web site, which is about life and real estate development in Brooklyn.

“People are concerned about the creature’s ability to survive,” he said. “Quite honestly it could not have picked a worse spot.”

Guskind and Durham disputed media reports that the animal was ever inside the canal proper.

“I don’t know how that got started,” Durham said. “I was there with it all day, and I was never in the canal. One of our concerns is that it might try to go there. There would be no way to prevent it.”

Guskind’s site included a map showing the whale in an area, often called Gowanus Bay, beyond a highway bridge that spans the canal exit.

Like the Gowanus canal, the outlet is lined with docks, storage warehouses and a large fuel oil depot, but it has enough room for a whale to turn around in its 30-foot depths. The canal is shallower and so narrow that a large mammal might have problems making a U-turn.

Minke whales are a subspecies of baleen whales, common in northern Atlantic waters, and feed on plankton and krill. They are not known for singing like their cousins the humpback whales. Underwater listening devices picked up only a few “grunts” in the Gowanus waters, Durham said.

Durham was uncertain whether underwater sounds could have been used to coax or drive the whale back into the open harbor.

In some cases, lost or trapped whales flee at the recorded sounds of killer whales, but Durham said that wouldn’t have worked in this case.

“Whales like this one have never heard that sound,” she said. “They wouldn’t know what it was.”

AP-ES-04-18-07 2053EDT


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