Marine biologists performed a necropsy Monday on a humpback whale in the hopes of learning why the mammal had become stranded on a Moriches Bay sandbar last week before it was euthanized, officials said.
Experts determined that the whale was female, 29.5-feet long and weighed approximately 15 tons, but results of tests performed on its remains will not be available for weeks, officials said. The tests were conducted after scientists used a crane to lift the whale onto a barge, which shipped the carcass to Cupsogue Beach County Park on Sunday—the same day that community members held a vigil for the whale, which some people believe should have been saved, not euthanized.
“We hope to learn more about what caused this whale to strand,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a statement.
The case was the third whale incident on Long Island this year. Two dead whales washed up this spring, and at least a half dozen did so last year. Officials noted that it’s not unusual to see whales off the coasts of LI, but spotting whales in the bay are rare.
Local residents had named the whale Morey—after Moriches Bay— after it got stuck on a sandbar Nov. 20. They bemoaned the fact that law enforcement threatened them with arrest if they approached the humpback, which is a federally protected species. The nonprofit Riverhead Foundation for Marine Conservation and Preservation said it had tried to free the whale the same day that it was stranded but failed.
Observers say the incident should be a wake-up call.
“Outraged local citizens have created a petition with nearly 2,000 signatures so far calling on New York’s federal, state and local elected officials to properly train volunteers to rescue beached whales when they become stranded in locally patrolled waters,” the Citizens Campaign for the Environment said in a statement.
When NOAA experts arrived Wednesday, agency officials and a team of veterinarians determined that the mammal was in such poor health that it could not be saved and needed to be put down. Plans to free the whale were subsequently scrapped because experts believed that the weakened whale would just become stranded again, officials said last week.
Humpback whales can grow up to 60-feet long, weigh 25-to-40 tons, and live 50 years, according to NOAA. They are threatened by getting entangled in fishing gear, struck by ships, harassed by whale-watching boats, detrimental changes to their habitat, and illegal hunting. These whales were removed from the endangered species list this year.
The Riverhead Foundation urges anyone who finds marine wildlife stranded on the beach to call its hotline: 631-369-9829.