By Bill Trotter
MACHIAS, Maine — More than a month after it was first reported, the carcass of an endangered right whale has washed up along the Washington County shore.
The whale, a female between 2 and 3 years old, was found last week, according to Sean Todd, director of Allied Whale at College of the Atlantic. The carcass has two large gash marks on its underside, but Todd cautioned on Thursday that these marks may have been made after the whale died, while it was still floating at sea.
“It was first spotted [floating in the Gulf of Maine] one month ago, and it was decomposing then,” Todd said. “It is now very decomposed.”
Researchers have yet to fully examine the whale’s carcass, according to Todd.
At the request of Allied Whale, the Bangor Daily News agreed not to disclose the whale’s location in order to reduce the risk of anyone tampering with the carcass, which remains where it was found.
Todd said the whale’s skeleton remains intact and that researchers plan to clean it, piece it together and donate it to a museum.
Todd said a necropsy has not been performed on the whale carcass and that a cause of death has not yet been determined. He said that, because right whales are listed as an endangered species by the federal government, investigators will try to determine whether anyone may be responsible for the whale’s death. Only about 400 right whales remain in the North Atlantic where, because of their low reproduction rates, scientists are concerned they may go extinct.
“When a dead right whale is found, the stakes go up,” Todd said. “Whenever an [endangered] animal dies, there is always an investigation into the cause of death.”
After receiving reports about a floating whale carcass, researchers with Allied Whale found it a few weeks ago floating at sea 25 miles southeast of Great Wass Island, according to Todd. Allied Whale began towing it back to shore with its boat Borealis but had to cut it loose for safety reasons when weather worsened, he said. The whale, about 25 feet long, is estimated to weigh about 25,000 pounds. Even though Borealis has a 400 horsepower engine, for about 10 hours it could only move at about 2 knots, or less than 2½ mph, while towing the whale.
“These things are very heavy,” Todd said.
The Coast Guard assisted in hunting for the whale the next day, but with no success.
“We spent three days trying to find that animal,” he said.
It reappeared last week when a kayaker came across the whale’s body washed up on a beach, according to Todd.
Image Credit: Art MacKay files