ASSATEAGUE – A preliminary examination of a dead whale found on Assateague this week shows injuries consistent with blunt force trauma, though more information is being collected to determine if the incident occurred before or after the mammal’s death.
On Tuesday, staff members with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the National Aquarium made their way to Assateague Island to conduct a necropsy on a 33-foot-long female humpback whale that was discovered in the Maryland oversand vehicle (OSV) area early Monday morning.
Preliminary results from that examination revealed a hemorrhage that could have resulted in the whale’s death, officials said.
“Examination of the whale was limited by decomposition,” a statement from stranding team partners reads. “However, findings included that it was a subadult female of 33.8 feet in length with an area of hemorrhage along the left side of the whale. This hemorrhage could be consistent with suspect blunt force trauma (vessel strike). Samples were collected to determine if those lesions occurred before or after death.”
On Monday, a deceased whale was discovered along Assateague Island’s OSV area, although it is unknown as to how long the whale has been dead or whether it washed ashore on Monday or sometime earlier over the weekend. One citizen said he drove the entire OSV area on Saturday and the whale was not on the beach at that time.
National Park Service staff at Assateague Island National Seashore immediately contacted the Maryland DNR’s Stranding Response Program, the lead agency for stranding response in the state of Maryland, and the area of beach at the 21.8-kilometer mark was closed to allow the whale to be dealt with safely.
DNR consults with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and partners with other agencies such as the National Aquarium and Smithsonian Institution. And on Tuesday, staff members with the National Aquarium assisted Maryland DNR in handling the exam and necropsy of the dead whale.
As a land manager, Assateague Island National Seashore is responsible for carcass retrieval and, ultimately, disposal.
“NPS staff at Assateague Island National Seashore will use heavy equipment to move the whale to the upper part of the beach,” Assateague Island National Seashore shared in a news release Tuesday. “After the necropsy is completed, it will be moved into the dunes and allowed to dry out prior to its eventual burial. All parts of the animal are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.”
Staff at Assateague Island National Seashore are reminding visitors who come across the whale to keep their distance and keep any dogs leashed.
“The carcass will smell for a while, but previous experience shows that the smell will not be a problem more than 50 yards or so from the actual location,” a statement reads. “All marine mammals, alive or dead, are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and collection of any parts is prohibited.”
Officials also encourage visitors to contact the local stranding network if they observe any marine mammal or sea turtle washed ashore. Depending on the location, visitors can call the Maryland Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Response Program at 1-800-628-9944 or the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Stranding Response Program at 757-385-7575.
This week’s discovery on Assateague Island follows a slew of whale deaths in recent weeks along the coasts of New Jersey and New York.
In a meeting Tuesday, Worcester County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic acknowledged the recent events and made a motion to send a letter of concern to relevant state officials.
“There have been quite a few whales that have washed up on the East Coast,” he said. “In light of the fact that they want to reduce the speed limit or they have reduced the speed limit to save the right whales, I think we need to send a letter of concern due to seismic testing we’re having done off the coast for the wind farms. I’d like to ask the commissioners to send a letter to [Congressman Andy] Harris and whoever else the administration feels would be pertinent.”
He continued, “I know whales die of old age but the amount that have washed up on the East Coast during this seismic testing is concerning.”
Mitrecic’s motion to send a letter passed unanimously.