2017-06-29 / News

Cause of whale’s death still unknown


Chris Gamage, 16, of Coventry, watches over the dead whale at Beavertail State Park. Working for the state Department of Environmental this summer is his first job. 
PHOTO BY TIM RIEL Chris Gamage, 16, of Coventry, watches over the dead whale at Beavertail State Park. Working for the state Department of Environmental this summer is his first job. PHOTO BY TIM RIEL A necropsy was performed on the 32-foot whale carcass that washed ashore at Beavertail two weeks ago, but a spokeswoman for Mystic Aquarium said the results are pending.

“The process generally takes several weeks,” Dale Wolbrink said.

While waiting for the seas to calm so workers could safely remove the humpback, the state Department of Environmental Management watched over the carcass, which was on the west side of Beavertail State Park, to make sure the public didn’t disturb it. The whale was removed June 23, a week after its discovery, to an undisclosed location for examination and burial. The necropsy by Mystic Aquarium will determine the cause of death.

“Rhode Islanders are fortunate to live in a state with a wealth of marine life and habitat,” said Janet Coit, state environmental director. “We share our oceans with fish, sea turtles, birds and marine mammals, which reminds us of the wonder and power of nature. Seeing whales in our waters is thrilling. And in this unfortunate case where a dead whale was found, it offers an important opportunity for research and education.”

According to state Department of Environmental Management spokeswoman Rosa Jones, humpback whale sightings have increased in the Ocean State, likely due to the availability of food and efforts to remove environmental threats. Whales have been spotted in Block Island Sound and other nearby waters searching for American sand lance, a small eel-like forage fish that has been plentiful this year, she said.

Humpback whales are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972. The law prohibits the public from approaching the mammals, and boats are required to stay a certain distance from them.

According to Jennifer Goebel, a spokeswoman for the Atlantic region of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the whale marks the 46th dead humpback from Maine to North Carolina since January 2016.

— Tim Riel

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