The texts and Tweets, emails and phone calls started to fly early on Monday afternoon—a dead whale had washed up in the shallow surf at Seventh Street in Ocean City.
Within an hour, crowds started to form on the beach and boardwalk on a rainy January afternoon with more and more people arriving to catch a glimpse of the unfortunate visitor.
The stench was the first thing to greet Monday's visitors — with a sea breeze carrying the smell of the dead mammal to the boardwalk and street-ends nearby. The whale came ashore near the jetty at Seventh Street, and the waves rocked the carcass in the shallow water just off the beach.
"It's a very dead and badly decomposing whale that washed ashore" said Sheila Dean, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.
The whale, roughly 40 feet long, is either of the minke or fin species, Dean said. It's impossible at this point to determine how or exactly when the whale died, she added.
Curious onlookers should stay away from the dead marine mammal, as gases are building up inside its body, which could cause the carcass to explode, according to Dean.
Stranding Center technicians on the beach Monday said they will not be able to determine how the whale died until they can get better access to the animal — perhaps after an incoming tide pushes the whale further up the beach then recedes. (Update on Tuesday: ) They did not expect to have further information until Tuesday.
The tide was low when the whale first washed ashore at about 12:30 p.m. Monday (Jan. 23). A police officer at the scene said the whale had been reported earlier as it floated toward shore.
Mayor Jay Gillian and Business Administrator Mike Dattilo were on the beach Monday afternoon surveying the scene. Department of Public Works Director Mike Rossbach arrived a bit later.
Rossbach said he had some ideas about how to tackle the task of removing the whale carcass, but he said he would have to wait to get an OK and to see where on the beach the carcass lands after tonight's tide cycles. (See a unique strategy for removing a dead whale from an Oregon beach in November 1970.)
So the whale should remain in roughly the same place until at least Tuesday. That will make for a continuation of the attraction that brought out everybody from students to retirees.
Mainland Regional High School seniors Kristie Sepulueda and Kennedy Goldthorp and junior Jessica Duirek saw a Tweet about the whale after they finished their mid-terms on Monday morning, and they made the short drive from the mainland to take some photos from the Seventh Street jetty.
Ocean City real estate agent and Historical Museum President Ken Cooper said he had received about 20 calls about the whale.
"Everybody's talking about it," he said.
John Breckenridge was visiting from Philadelphia and chanced upon the scene early on Monday afternoon.
"It's sad," he said. "But at the same time, it's amazing. It's not every day you get to see an animal that big."