A sick finback whale, found beached Wednesday on the Breezy Point shores in Queens, likely will be allowed to die a natural death after marine biologists found it was fighting overwhelming odds.
"The whale is severely emaciated," said biologist Kim Durham, rescue coordinator at the Riverhead Foundation. "Probably, we'll let nature take its turn with this animal."
She said picking it up would be "inhumane at this point" and fatal, while causing severe pain.
The beached finback, an endangered species, is about 60 feet long and weighs 25 to 30 tons, half the typical weight for a finback of that length, Durham said.
She added that the whale also was bleeding from its tail. The foundation's marine biologists didn't know why, but said it could have cut itself while grinding against the sand or been injured earlier while swimming.
The whale's movements slowed Wednesday, despite efforts to keep it wet and alive by the man who found it while looking for his boat, lost in superstorm Sandy, and by New York City first responders.
"We jumped into the water and started pouring water on him," said Lou Bassolino, 66, of Breezy Point, who brought his family to the beach after finding the washed-up mammal. The whale "started to realize we were here. He was huffing, and stuff came from the spout."
Marine biologists said the animal may have a "chronic illness" and had not eaten in a long time.
The whale's ribs are exposed, a sign of serious malnourishment, said Robert DiGiovanni, executive director of the Riverhead Foundation.
It's possible the finback's condition stemmed from being struck by a sea vessel, but that won't be clear unless a necropsy is performed, experts said. "New York Harbor is like a four-lane highway," Durham said.
Biologists mulled options as they waited for the whale to either die or be carried out with the high tide. At high tide Wednesday afternoon, rising waters put the whale out of rescuers' reach.
If the whale is alive on the beach at low tide Thursday morning, one option could be euthanization -- the mammal would be disposed of in a landfill -- said Mendy Garron, Northeast stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will decide the finback's fate because of the species' status.
The whale was reported at Beach 216th Street and Palmer Place about 10:39 a.m., an NYPD spokeswoman said.
Bassolino, a semiretired real estate investor, said he spotted the whale while driving on the desolate beach, as he does most mornings, looking for his boat. Most homes nearby, including his on Palmer Drive, were uninhabitable after Sandy. He woke his wife and daughters, he said, and they searched on Google for "how to save a whale."
"We've been through so much devastation here," he said, "we just wanted to save something. We wanted to save that whale."
With Jennifer Barrios
and Joseph Mallia