A necropsy will determine the exact cause of death for the whale, a male named Luna that was more than 40 years old and had been tracked by marine biologists for decades, said officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The whale was discovered Monday morning at Lido Beach West Town Park on Long Island and was hauled up to the beach with a crane.
A necropsy team including representatives from the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, NOAA Fisheries, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Mystic Aquarium Animal Response Program and the Marine Mammal Stranding Center assembled Tuesday and cut through the blubber to collect samples of the whale’s internal organs, NOAA officials said in a statement.
The whale was likely killed by a vessel strike, the officials said, but more will be known once the results of the samples become available.
Officials said the whale’s level of decomposition indicated that it had died several days before washing ashore, contradicting early reports that the animal had beached itself while it was alive.
The whale was about 41 feet (12 meters) long and weighed 29,000 pounds (13,154 kilos), the officials said.
NOAA, which is responsible for the nation’s oceans and fisheries, says 19 humpback whales were stranded last year along the U.S. Atlantic coast. During the first month of this year, there have already been seven of the whales beached from Maine to Florida.