While navigating the Mediterranean Sea, a ship captain caught sight of an unusual creature in the water. A massive fin whale was cutting through the clear blue surface, its body twisted to a 45-degree angle due to a severe spinal deformity.
Sailors spotted the 40-ton, 55-foot fin whale near Cullera Beach in Valencia, Spain, about 200 miles southwest of Barcelona. Concerned for the whale’s health, they contacted wildlife rescuers, explaining that they thought the whale must be entangled in something for its body to take such an unnatural shape.
Anxious to save the struggling whale, officials immediately dispatched a team of rescuers on a Civil Guard patrol boat to remove the netting. In their investigation, however, biologists and veterinarians from the Oceanographic Foundation determined that the fin whale wasn’t tangled in driftnet or any other fishing gear.
Instead, it was suffering from a serious spinal deformity, scoliosis contorting its spine into a painful-looking angle.
How Did the Whale Develop Its Deformity?
As reported by scientists in a 2021 study published in Nature, whales do not develop scoliosis spontaneously. There have been many reports of whales with the deformity over the years. However, each of these cases arose from a traumatic event. A ship collision, for instance, can cause scoliosis to develop.
Due to the fin whale’s enormous size and disfigurement, scientists were unable to fit the cetacean with any remote trackers to keep an eye on its location and condition.
After a few hours of exploring the coast, the whale moved to deeper waters. It then disappeared into the crystal depths of the Mediterranean. Researchers guessed, however, that it wouldn’t go very far. Due to its poor health and difficulty swimming, it would likely resurface near the shore after a day or two.
A Little About the Noble Fin Whale
Second in size only to the majestic blue whale, the largest animal on Earth, the fin whale is true ocean royalty. Known as the “greyhound of the sea,” the enormous cetacean is long and slender, with the ability the surpass even the fastest ocean steamship.
A member of the baleen family, fin whales are closely related to humpbacks, blue whales, and minke whales. They strain their food from the sea through bristle-like baleen plates, which grow in rows from the upper jaw. These plates are made of keratin, the same material as human hair and fingernails.
As the fin whale swims, it takes huge gulps of water, sucking in tiny creatures called krill in the process. They then push the water back out with their jaws shut, trapping the krill with their baleen plates.
Fin whales inhabit all major oceans, from polar to tropical waters; however, they prefer temperate and cool waters. They are named as such for the unmistakable fin protruding from the rear end of their backs.