On Sunday, May 5, the Suffolk County Parks contacted Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) regarding a deceased humpback whale discovered on Cupsogue County Park in Westhampton.
AMCS, in coordination with Suffolk County Parks, reported to the Park on Monday to move the humpback out of the surf and conduct a preliminary external exam.
While initially it appeared that the 37-foot female was in good condition with healed scars around the fluke, a sign of a former entanglement, and no other exterior wounds or scars, the necropsy examination on Tuesday morning revealed widespread bruising and skull fractures compatible with a vessel strike.
“The humpback whales we see stranding on our shores are typically juveniles,” noted AMCS necropsy program director Kimberly Durham. “This is a much larger animal than we typically see.”
It was also discovered that the animal was likely between six to eight years of age. Shane Weeks of Shinnecock Nation led a ceremony to bless the animal prior to the exam.
“Because of its size, there may be a chance the Center for Coastal Studies may have documentation of this animal,” noted Durham. “Part of the examination includes taking photos of the fluke, which helps identify the animal. We will be sharing these photos with our partners to see if we can learn more about the animal’s history.”
During the examination, samples were taken. They will be sent to a pathologist to learn additional information that could lead to diagnosing the cause of death. The remains were buried on the beach.
The effort was a group response. “As the lead large whale organization in New York State, we often rely on the help of partners, volunteers, and donors to complete this work,” AMCS chief scientist and founder Rob DiGiovanni noted. “We worked with AMCS volunteers, Suffolk County Parks, Suffolk County Park Police, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, Mystic Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Team, and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Support from these other organizations was instrumental in today’s efforts.”
This marks the first large whale to strand in New York this year. The past couple of years have seen an unusually high mortality rate for humpback whales. Since January 2016, increasing humpback whale mortalities have been reported along the Atlantic coast from Maine through Florida, with 93 whale strandings along the east coast from 2016 to 2019.
If the public comes across an injured or deceased marine mammal or sea turtle, they are asked to report it to the NYS Stranding Hotline by calling 631-369-9829. They may also share sightings of marine wildlife with AMCS by emailing [email protected]
For more information, visit www.amseas.org.