On Sunday, May 5, 2019 Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) received a call from Suffolk County Parks on about a deceased humpback whale that washed up at Cupsogue County Park in Westhampton. A response plan was formulated with the necropsy examination being completed today.
On Monday, AMCS worked with Suffolk County Parks to move the animal out of the surf and did an initial external exam. The 37-foot female was in good condition with healed scars around the fluke, consistent with a previous entanglement. There were no other exterior wounds or scars.
Today, the team arrived onsite around 7:30 a.m. to begin the necropsy examination. Prior to the exam, Shane Weeks of Shinnecock Nation performed a ceremony to bless the animal. During the examination, AMCS necropsy program director Kimberly Durham found that the animal was not a mature female, likely between six to eight years of age. She also found extensive bruising and skull fractures consistent with a vessel strike. Samples were taken and will be sent to a pathologist to discover more information that may inform the cause of death. Those results may take several months to come back. The examination was completed by 2 p.m. and the remains were buried on the beach.
“The humpback whales we see stranding on our shores are typically juveniles,” says AMCS necropsy program director Kimberly Durham. “This is a much larger animal than we typically see. Because of its size, there may be a chance the Center for Coastal Studies may have documentation of this animal. 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.”
AMCS worked with several partners to complete the 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,” says AMCS chief scientist and founder Rob DiGiovanni. “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 is the first large whale to strand in New York this year. An unusual mortality event has been in effect for humpback whales since 2016. More information about the UME, including stranding numbers along the Atlantic coast, can be found here: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-life-distress/2016-2019-humpback-whale-unusual-mortality-event-along-atlantic-coast
The public is encouraged to report injured and deceased marine mammals and sea turtles to the NYS Stranding Hotline by calling 631.369.9829. Sightings of marine wildlife are also helpful and can be shared with AMCS by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re out on the water in this area, please keep a close lookout for whales, and remember to give them plenty of room. See NOAA’s approach guidelines.