Rare Pygmy Sperm Whale Embryo Spotted on Shore After Tropical Storm

The embryo of an elusive pygmy sperm whale was recently found on a Cayman Islands beach. Officials believe that the discovery is a result of Tropical Storm Grace.

In a Facebook post on Monday, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DoE) shared that the creature was first spotted on Friday. After conducting an examination of the creature, officials determined that the three-foot-long whale—whose eyes and teeth were found to be underdeveloped—was more than likely an embryo of a pygmy sperm whale.

Human intervention (fishing, pollution, etc.) was quickly ruled out as a cause of death.

"We believe the mother was caught in #TropicalStormGrace and prematurely aborted the pregnancy," the DoE said in its Facebook post. "Premature abortion in pregnant whales can happen when the mother experiences significant stress/trauma or the conditions aren't beneficial for the survival of the offspring."

The department also shared photos of the beached embryo.

Understandably, commenters were saddened by the images.

"[P]oor thing—such a beautiful creature," said one.

"Poor baby," said another.

One Facebook user expressed that while she was sad to read about the embryo's fate, she also wished she could have seen its mother "swimming offshore in our waters." This is likely because pygmy sperm whales are rarely spotted in the wild.

According to NOAA Fisheries, pygmy sperm whales rarely spend time at the ocean's surface. On the off chance they are spotted near the surface, they are either "logging" (lying still) or swimming very slowly. Most of the time, however, they are in mid-to-deep-water environments, where they hunt and feed.

"Pygmy sperm whales can dive at least 1,000 feet in search of food," NOAA said.

Like with most marine animals, fishing gear is a primary threat to pygmy sperm whales. Though they spend much of their time in deep ocean waters, they are still susceptible to getting entangled in netting or trap lines, which can result in severe injury.

Ingesting marine debris could result in injury and/or death, and noise pollution can prevent pygmy sperm whales from communicating with each other.

"Mounting evidence from scientific research has documented that ocean noise also causes marine mammals to change the frequency or amplitude of calls, decrease foraging behavior, become displaced from preferred habitat, or increase the level of stress hormones in their bodies," NOAA explained. "If loud enough, noise can cause permanent or temporary hearing loss."

beached pygmy sperm whale embryo
The Cayman Islands Department of Environment shared that a beached pygmy sperm whale embryo was found last week. Officials believe the mother miscarried during Tropical Storm Grace. Cayman Islands Department of Environment/Facebook screenshot