On Monday, September 24, 2018, Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) was notified by East Hampton Marine Patrol of a deceased minke whale that stranded on Indian Wells Beach. The initial call came in around 4:30 p.m. AMCS began planning for a response, which was scheduled to take place the next day. In the meantime, they alerted Shinnecock Nation as ceremonies for deceased whales are an important part of their heritage.
AMCS arrived the following morning, though weather conditions were unfavorable and the outlook for the week looked like conducting a necropsy would be difficult. Thanks to a lucky break in weather during the afternoon, the team was able to perform the examination. The whale was 18.7 feet in length. It was severely decomposed and missing many internal organs, including the reproductive organs, therefore the sex could not be determined.
"Stranding investigations on all marine mammals and sea turtles are an important part of our conservation work as it provides valuable insight into the health of various species and what threats they face in our waters,” said AMCS necropsy program director Kimberly Durham. "Though a definitive cause of death could not be determined during the necropsy our team conducted for this animal today, samples were taken and sent to a pathologist. We will continue to share initial findings from stranding investigations with the public to raise awareness of these species, and will work with our partners to enhance our response efforts in the future."
Pathology results may take several months to come back. The whale was removed from the beach for disposal by the Town of East Hampton.
AMCS is grateful for the support from East Hampton Town Marine Patrol and Town of East Hampton Sanitation. AMCS is also proud to support Shinnecock Nation as they honor their heritage during these events. Shane Weeks of the Shinnecock Nation performed a traditional ceremony for the whale, which is called "podtap" in Shinnecock. Weeks has been to nearly every whale beaching on Long Island for the last several years to perform a ceremony.
"These events hold great cultural value to my people,” Weeks shared. "The whales were also one of the staple foods for the indigenous people in the New England area historically. Our whaling canoes could hold almost 100 people. This connection is still acknowledged to this day."
This was the 10th large whale AMCS has responded to this year. The following morning, Wednesday, September 26, AMCS received calls about another deceased whale in East Hampton, this time just east of Main Beach. They also received a call about a deceased dolphin in the area. A response plan was formulated for what was now the 11th large whale stranding on New York shores in 2018.
That same day, AMCS worked with Village of East Hampton Police, East Hampton Marine Patrol, the Highway Department, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and Shinnecock Nation to conduct the necropsy. The 21-foot animal was severely decomposed, and only the heart and lung were available for examination. The sex and species could not be determined, though samples were taken and sent to a pathologist.
There is an ongoing Unusual Mortality Event (UME) for minke whales along the Atlantic coast. More information can be found on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries website here: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-life-distress/2017-2018-minke-whale-unusual-mortality-event-along-atlantic-coast
AMCS is the lead large whale response organization in New York State. As a nonprofit organization, we truly appreciate all of the organizations involved that were instrumental in these efforts. We ask that the public help by reporting strandings to the NYS Stranding Hotline by calling 631.369.9829.