Juvenile Humpback Whale Washes Ashore in Midcoast Maine: PHOTOS

by Taylor Cunningham
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A dead juvenile humpback whale washed ashore on Inner Heron Island on Sun, Oct. 30. The death is part of an alarming trend affecting three large whale species in recent years.

A team with the nonprofit research group, Marine Mammals of Maine, responded hoping to learn why the animal died. But “unfortunately, it was already fairly decomposed. So scientists had limited amounts of “viable samples” available that could give them insight into the whale’s life or death.

“We were able to collect morphometric data and a few biological samples,” the group shared on Facebook.

“Thank you to the reporting party and the island caretakers who helped us document this case as much as possible, contributing invaluable information to our monitoring work,” the post continued.

The endangered humpback whale has been “experiencing Unusual Mortality Events in MMoME’s response region” along with the right and minke whales. Right whales are also listed on the Endangered Species List.

Humpback Whale Stranding Deaths Have More Than Doubled

According to NOAA Fisheries, humpbacks have been suffering the Unusual Mortality Event since 2016 throughout the Atlantic Coast.

In total, 166 humpback whales have been found dead on beaches stretching from Maine through Florida. Between 2012 and 2016, there were about 52 documented humpback whale deaths.

The administration says 50% of the animals that were studied in the past six years died due to human interaction, such as a ship strike.

“When ships travel quickly through these areas, there is a high risk of collision, injury, and death, as whales are often unable to get out of the ship’s path in time,” the World Wildlife Federation says.

However, scientists are perplexed by the remaining unexplained deaths. And with the humpback population struggling, scientists are working hard to uncover the causes.

MMoM’s executive director Lynda Doughty was one of the people who examined the most recent stranding. And she said that she could not determine a cause of death not only because of the decomposed state but also because the 31-foot juvenile male was lying on his stomach. So, it was impossible to fully investigate the death. However, Doughty shared that there were no signs of injury.

Doughty was able to take swabs of DNA and a few more to test for viruses. However, it will take weeks or months before she gets any results. NOAA has joined the investigation as MMoM works to determine why the whale died and add it to its all-encompassing research.

As for the humpback whale carcass, officials could not remove it due to its size. So it will remain on the shore until it eventually washed back to sea.