Dead Humpback Whale Adds to Marine Mammal Mortality Concerns

Pictured Above: The humpback whale found off of Montauk. | Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd class Unwin of USCG Station Montauk

The U.S. Coast Guard discovered a dead humpback whale floating in the waters six miles off Montauk on July 24, and worked with the East Hampton Town Police Department and the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) to secure the whale and bring it to a beach at the end of Eton Road in Montauk for a necropsy examination on Friday, July 26. 

The researchers who conducted the necropsy found the whale was female and just over 30 feet in length. 

“The animal was fairly decomposed. It is difficult to determine when the animal died or its age due to decomposition and predation,” according to AMCS.

No immediate cause of death was evident to scientists, so samples were taken and will be sent to a pathologist to help learn more about its death. 

AMCS says results may take several months to come back. They are working with assistance from NOAA Fisheries, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, East Hampton Marine Patrol, and USCG Station Montauk. 

There is an ongoing unusual mortality event in effect for humpback whales along the Atlantic coast, according to NOAA Fisheries.

Since January 2016, elevated humpback whale mortalities have occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine through Florida, with 100 deceased whales reported in that time — 26 in 2016, 34 in 2017, 25 in 2018 and eight so far this year.

Under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, an unusual mortality event is defined as “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.

Partial or full necropsy examinations were conducted on approximately half of the whales. Of the whales examined, about 50 percent had evidence of human interaction, either ship strike or entanglement, according to NOAA Fisheries.

A portion of the whales have shown evidence of pre-mortem vessel strike; however, this finding is not consistent across all whales examined, and NOAA Fisheries has deemed that more research is needed.

As part of the investigation process, NOAA has assembled an independent team of scientists to coordinate with the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events to review data, sample stranded whales, and determine the next steps for the investigation.

As New York’s lead large whale response organization, this is the third whale AMCS has responded to this year and the second that was deceased. They are urging members of the public to report marine mammal and sea turtle strandings to the New York State Stranding Hotline at 631.369.9829.

Members of the public should not approach or touch dead or injured marine mammals.

On July 15 of this year, AMCS responded to a humpback whale entangled in a fishing net 75 feet offshore in Sagaponack. That whale later broke free from the net and was not found.

A dead 37-foot long female humpback whale had washed ashore at Cupsogue Beach in West Hampton Dunes on May 5 with no exterior sign of injuries.

— BY

Beth Young

Beth Young

Beth Young built her first boat out of driftwood tied together with phragmites behind her family’s apartment above the old Mill Creek Inn in Southold. Nowadays, she spends most of her time kayaking, learning about shellfish, writing newspaper stories, trying to sail a Sunfish, and watching the way the bay changes from day to day. You can send her a message at [email protected]

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