Marine biologists are growing concerned with the welfare of a humpback whale that had been swimming off Long Island over the past week but is got stuck on a sandbar in Moriches Bay.
The whale is currently “grounded in the middle of the bay, near Hart’s Cove,” the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation said in a statement on Facebook. The whale has been struggling to get itself unstuck.
“We are considering the whale’s welfare, and are disappointed in the recent turn of events,” the Riverhead Foundation said on Facebook. “We are hopeful that the animal will be able to swim out of the bay on its own with higher tides.”
Biologists with the organization went out on boats Sunday to monitor the whale’s behavior and condition, the group added. Additionally, biologists, along with Southampton Town Bay Constables and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, attempted to produce a surge of waves to knock the whale off the sandbar, to no avail.
Reports of the whale swimming off Long Island first emerged on Nov. 13. From its behavior, the foundation said it appeared the whale was feeding. At the time, the foundation requested that active boaters stay alert and avoid moving too close.
As biologists continue with their wait-and-see approach, the group is also actively consulting with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and whale experts about possible courses of action.
Mendy Garron, Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator, NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region, said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday that the whale is likely suffering from internal injuries, noting that forcibly removing the animal could cause a “significant amount of stress” and compound any medical issues.
“The animal’s well being is the first priority,” Garron added.
Officials are deploying a team of experts from Cape Cod, as well as a large whale veterinarian from North Carolina, to aid in medical intervention. Based on similar episodes across the country, whales of that size typically have only have up to week of survival once stranded. Once doctors make contact, they can then advise whether euthanizing the whale is in its best interest.
The goal is to make the animal as comfortable as possible, Garon said, adding that experts have advised against any further attempts to physically remove it from the sandbar.
As a safety precaution, officials have advised concerned citizens to avoid approaching the whale. Going within 200 feet of the whale is in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Garron said.
Although Long Island has had humpback whale sightings in the past, having one appear in Moriches Bay is rare, officials said. The bay’s extensive sandbars are particularly challenging for whales to navigate.
Marine biologists became concerned almost immediately after receiving reports of the whale in the bay because of of the waterway’s obstacles. As experts discussed contingency plans, they eventually concluded that physically removing the whale from the bay was not in its best interest because of its location and the distance of intervention would be greater than any past instances.
At least two humpback whales found off Long Island this year did not survive their foray into nearby waterways.
In June, biologists found partial remains of a dead humpback whale floating in the waters of Westhampton, and in April, a dead whale was found floating in Napeague Bay in Amagansett.
At least six deceased whales were found off Long Island last year.