A baby humpback whale struggles in the surf after washing...

A baby humpback whale struggles in the surf after washing up near Main Beach in East Hampton. (April 6, 2010) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A weak, underweight juvenile humpback whale that stranded itself along Main Beach in East Hampton survived the night, and was observed moving its flippers Wednesday.

However, officials had said Tuesday the whale probably can't be saved.

"There's not much we can do. The whale looks thin to us, and we think it will die," said Chuck Bowman, president of the marine mammal rescue program at the Riverhead Foundation.

Bowman said the whale's bulk - it likely weighs more than a ton - made it dangerous for rescuers to try to push it into deeper water or euthanize it. But he vowed to stay with the whale until it died.

Late Tuesday, with more than 100 people watching, the mammal was thrashing about, groaning and flipping its tail. Bowman said the creature was probably having trouble breathing due to the low tide.

The whale had probably became separated from its mother, said Bowman, who described the scenario as "really sad."

One of those watching, Heidi Pearson, professor of marine mammalogy at Stony Brook University in Southampton, said the young whale was "likely on its way from the breeding grounds in the Caribbean to the feeding grounds off the New England coast.

"It's always sad to see a young animal in distress, but luckily the population as a whole is recovering and getting healthy," Pearson said.

Dead whales do wash up occasionally on Long Island beaches, but "for a live whale to come onshore is far less common and usually they are very, very sick," Bowman said.

Village Police Officer Christopher Jack first spotted the whale about 300 yards off the beach at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday and contacted the Riverhead Foundation. The whale was estimated to be 20 to 25 feet long. An adult humpback whale is about 50 to 60 feet long, Bowman said.

Officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation were also at the beach. Village public works supervisor Scott Fithian, 51, said the whale would be buried in nearby dunes.

With John Valenti

HUMPBACK WHALES

SIZE Adults reach 30-60 feet and weigh 25-40 tons.

REPRODUCTION Single calf born every 2-3 years after gestation of 11-12 months. At birth, they can be 12-16.5 feet long and weigh up to 1-2 tons.

HABITAT Found worldwide, commonly in temperate waters.

APPEARANCE Known for long pectoral flippers and a knobby head with a pronounced hump.

THREATS An endangered species, their main predator is the killer whale.

Source: The Riverhead Foundation

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