A Minke whale was stranded near Shinnecock Inlet in Hampton Bays on Tuesday morning, but marine biologists freed the 12-foot-long creature, which swam away, officials said.
The Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) responded to the scene on a beach off Dune Road after the incident was reported at 11 a.m., according to Rachel Bosworth, spokeswoman for the nonprofit agency that handles stranded whales and dolphins on LI.
“The animal was re-floated back into the bay and last seen swimming towards the inlet,” Bosworth said, noting that local authorities helped biologists to free the whale.
The whale was male and estimated to be between 500 and 750 lbs. It was alert with no signs of trauma, officials added.
Southampton Town Police and Bay Constables, the U.S. Coast Guard, Hampton Bays Fire Department and Fire Police, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit and the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation assisted in the response.
Whales are commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean off the southern coast of LI, but it is very rare for whales to be found in the bays, experts said last year when a humpback whale got stranded on a sandbar in Moriches Bay.
Several days after that whale was stranded, experts euthanized the humpback, sparking outrage from critics that said not enough was done to save it. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) later revised its whale stranding response protocols in response to the incident.
Although the majority of cases of stranded and dead whales that wash up on LI involve humpbacks, a Minke whale covered in shark bites washed up on Fire Island two years ago.
Minke whales are a federally protected species that can grow up to 35-feet long, 20,000 pounds and have a lifespan of 50 years, according to NOAA.
Anyone who finds a stranded whale is urged to call the New York State Stranding Hotline at 631-369-9829.