Officials at the New England Aquarium officials are trying to determine the cause of death for a whale that was found over the weekend on the South Shore of Massachusetts.
The 27-foot long minke whale was found dead Sunday morning near Marshfield’s Brant Rock.
The aquarium’s animal rescue team responded, and two biologists waded into the water from knee to waist deep to do an initial exam and take tissue samples.
Aquarium biologists then had to move the whale to do a necropsy, after it was pinned against a jetty in shallow water at low tide and along the very rocky, narrow shore.
On Tuesday, an entire team of researchers came out to further investigate the whale’s organs and musculature. Eventually, they will send samples to labs across the country.
Since January 2017, minke whales have been dying in unusually high numbers along the east coast of the United State from Maine to the Carolinas. Aquarium officials say this is believed to be the 38th dead minke whale that has been documented.
“We’ve got a lot of whales that are underweight in an area that for this species, has plenty of food,” Tony LaCasse of the New England Aquarium said. “We’re wondering if there is something like a bacteria, a virus or a change in the environment that’s causing this.”
Aquarium officials say the adult female whale was thin but not emaciated. There was no visible gear from a possible entanglement, and there was no major trauma visible from a possible vessel strike.
The whale will be buried on site in Marshfield once the necropsy is complete. They expect results in the next few months.
Minke whales, the smallest of the large whale species found in New England waters, are often seen on whale watches in the region. They are grey, sleekly built and often can be identified by their white bellies and small white, pectoral fins, which are called “minke mittens.”
The minke whales are a protected species like all whales in U.S. waters, but their population is not considered either endangered or threatened.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the American federal oceans agency, has declared an “unusual mortality event” and is committing additional resources to try to learn what might be affecting the species.