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May 14, 2019 6:41 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Cause Of Humpback Whale's Death Not Clear, But Numerous Human Encounters Had Been Harmful

Biologists from the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society with the young humpback whale that washed ashore dead in Westhampton last week.    DANA SHAW
May 14, 2019 11:21 AM

Biologists from the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society said that the dead humpback whale that washed ashore in Westhampton last week had apparently suffered multiple injuries from interactions with humans and vessels, but that the immediate cause of death was not clear.

The whale, an immature female about 37 feet long, showed signs of numerous previous injuries, including scars consistent with entanglement in fishing nets or lines, and extensive bruising and skull fractures that were most likely caused by being struck by a ship or boat.

But the whale externally was in “good condition,” according to an assessment by the AMCS’s program director, Kimberly Durham, and a necropsy on the sand of Cupsogue Beach did not uncover an obvious cause of death. Tissue samples were sent to a pathologist for further examination, though results could take months.

After the necropsy was completed, and a blessing ceremony performed by Shane Weeks of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, the whale’s carcass was buried in the beach by Suffolk County Parks Department crews. Photos of its tail flukes, which bear unique markings that marine scientists use to track the movement of whales along the coast, were sent to the Center for Coastal Studies in hopes of learning more about the 6- to 8-year-old whale’s life history.

The whale’s death was the first documented in 2019, amid a years-long stretch of increasing deaths of humpback whales in the Northeast. Since 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has logged 93 incidents of humpback whales found dead or dying on or near the coasts of states from Virginia to Maine.

New York has seen the second-largest number of those dead creatures, with 17, including eight in 2018 alone. According to NOAA, about half of the dead whales discovered in this period of “unusual mortality” showed obvious signs of either being struck by a ship or entangled in fishing gear.

MICHAEL WRIGHT

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