Humpback whale carcass washes ashore

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 9:15am
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With another humpback whale washing up on the shore of Block Island, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is keeping in place what it calls a “declared unusual mortality rate” for the humpbacks. The declaration was made by NOAA back in April 2016, covering retroactively to January 2016 and continuing to the present day, according to Mendy Garron, the Regional Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator, who spoke to The Block Island Times on Wednesday, Sept. 6. The humpback was discovered about 100 yards down from the bottom of the steps at Mohegan Bluffs on Tuesday, Sept. 5. It is the 53rd humpback whale stranded on beaches from North Carolina to Maine since the beginning of 2016, according to Garron. A humpback was found beached in Jamestown on June 16, and there was a stranding of a baby humpback on Crescent Beach in March 2016.

What the unusual declared mortality rate designation means, said Garron, is that “we are putting in more resources to investigate these stranding events.” What they have found so far is the confluence of a few events: an increase in the humpback whale population, which could mean a higher mortality rate; a tendency to move closer into shore, which may cause the animals to beach on land rather than float out to sea. Or, said Garron, there could be a “true increase” in the mortality rates. As of now, she said, the whales range in age from young to old, and some have exhibited signs of “vessel interaction.” Because of the increased population in local waters, in Narragansett Bay and Long Island Sound, boaters are not used to encountering the animals here, she said.

Humpbacks were on the endangered species list, but were delisted last year, said Garron. They migrate up from the West Indies to feed. Garron understands that the stranded whales are of interest, but she recommended not touching the animals or getting too close.

NOAA works closely with the Mystic Aquarium, which has a team of first responders on the island to investigate the stranding. Garron said that until a necropsy is performed they won’t know what killed this most recent humpback.

One thing that Garron was sure of is that it wasn’t something for which the Block Island Wind Farm was responsible.

“We don’t believe the Wind Farm would have any negative activity on the humpback whales,” she said.