On Wednesday, July 24, 2019, Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) received a report from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation about a deceased humpback whale floating approximately 6 miles offshore in Montauk. Working with USCG Sector Long Island Sound, East Hampton Police Department, NOAA Fisheries, and NYS DEC, we formulated a response plan to bring the animal to shore for a necropsy.
On Friday, July 16, 2019, the animal was secured on a Montauk beach and the examination began. Due to the level of decomposition, AMCS was unable to determine a cause of death for the 30-foot female humpback whale. Samples were taken and sent to a pathologist to help uncover what may have happened to this animal. The remains were disposed of by the town. AMCS also had additional support from East Hampton Marine Patrol and USCG Station Montauk.
The public expressed some concern about shark activity. From NOAA Fisheries:
There are several factors that are taken into consideration when towing deceased marine mammals, such as large whales, to shore in regards to human safety. The area is monitored for shark activity before efforts to move the whale begin and during any towing operations. Removal of the whale from the water onto shore for examination and appropriate disposal reduces the risk of attracting sharks. Towing the whale further out to sea would only delay its eventual landing on shore. Best practices to dispose of a large whale once onshore include deep burial on a sandy beach or disposal in a municipal landfill or compost facility. NOAA and stranding network responders consult with local and state agencies to develop a disposal plan before any action is taken.
Examination of deceased whales is essential to conservation efforts. By uncovering what threats these animals face in the marine environment, stranding network partners can help other animals in the future. For humpback whales specifically, there has been an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) in effect along the Atlantic coast since 2016. Stranding network organizations examine as many of these animals as possible to help determine what is impacting the species. More information on the humpback whale UME is available on the NOAA website.
Many shark species, including sand tiger, sandbar, dusky, thresher, and white sharks naturally occur along the New York coastline during summer months. To learn more about sharks in New York waters, check out the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
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.