The dead humpback whale that washed up on Long Beach Friday was likely hit by a boat, experts say.
The 32-foot long female humpback was found beached on Friday afternoon near Lafayette Boulevard beach. Marine experts said the whale was approximately two- to five-years-old and showed “signs of bruising consistent with vessel strike.”
“The necropsy showed signs of extensive bruising consistent with vessel strike,” the Hampton Bays-based nonprofit said in a statement to Newsday. “The whale was moderately decomposed, and samples were taken to be sent to a pathologist to help determine the cause of death.”
This is New York state’s third reported cetacean fatality this year, and the deceased whale attracted a great deal of attention from passersby.
“It was a circus there,” one person commented on the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society’s Facebook page. “People were allowing their children to touch its mouth … and actually get on it and pose for a picture.”
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation limited access to the beach on Saturday to allow the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society to perform a three-hour necropsy on the animal before burying it in the sand.
Samples were taken from the whale and sent to a pathologist to help confirm a cause of death, the conservation society said on Facebook.
“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement is also investigating the whale’s death, as there is an ongoing unusual mortality event for humpback whales,” the society said. “While we understand and appreciate the public interest of this animal, it is important to note that the public should keep the minimum distance of 150 feet away from live and deceased marine mammals at all times as they are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The public should not touch these animals as there are safety and disease transmission risks.”
New York’s humpback whales are considered a success story for the Endangered Species Act, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, due in part to improved water quality. They were first put on the endangered species list in 1970, but they were taken off in 2015 due to conservation efforts such as the Clean Water Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act that helped restore the food web.
However, recent humpback whale fatalities are concerning, according to NOAA. Since 2016, humpback whales on the Atlantic coast have been dying at unusually high rates, causing NOAA to declare an unusual mortality event for the animals.
Of the humpbacks examined in a March 2018 report from NOAA, 50 percent of the whale deaths examined showed evidence of human interaction, according the organization’s website.
NOAA is currently working to determine the cause of the recent spike in humpback deaths.