RYE — A juvenile minke whale was found dead at Jenness Beach Monday morning and environmental professionals are calling the death part of a larger trend.
Police Chief Kevin Walsh said the whale was found at about 6 a.m. by someone walking along the beach. He said the area around the whale was cordoned off to keep people and pets away.
Jenn Kennedy, executive director of Blue Ocean Society, said the whale was 16 feet long and weighed about 4,000 pounds. She said the average lifespan for a minke whale is 40 to 50 years.
The police chief said the whale is believed to have washed up onto the beach sometime overnight. He said personnel from the Seacoast Science Center and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were notified about the whale death and spent the day planning for its removal from the beach, which is town property.
Initially a backhoe was used to try and place it into a dumpster, but the dumpster was too small. Walsh said mid-afternoon, “We’re working on getting something bigger” and it may not be moved until Tuesday.
Kennedy said a couple of minke whales washed up along the area shoreline last year and that was considered unusual. She said the whale found Monday had some fishing gear tangled on it, but it’s unclear whether that occurred before or after the whale died.
Kennedy said the Seacoast Science Center is taking the lead on the incident, but no one from that group could be immediately reached for comment.
New England Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said his organization will likely be called to assist with a necropsy. He said minkes are the smallest of the whale species and two or three died off the Seacoast during the past year. The causes of those deaths could be ordinary, such as illness, he said.
“It’s not completely clear,” LaCasse said, while reminding that all whales are protected species, but the minke whale population is stable.
NOAA Fisheries spokesperson Jennifer Goebel said her organization last year declared an “unusual mortality event,” due to the deaths of a number of whales along the eastern United States. She said from South Carolina to Maine, 27 minke whales were found dead in 2017 and another 16 washed up dead this year.
Goebel said the declaration of an unusual mortality event triggers funding for more research into the causes of the whale deaths. She said researchers have determined the causes of 60 percent of those recent whale deaths and they were human interaction or infectious disease. Many times, she said, whales are too decomposed when they wash ashore to determine cause of death.
She said once a necropsy is done on the whale found Tuesday, NOAA will receive a report, probably in a couple of months.
Walsh said the whale found Monday is significantly smaller than a humpback whale named “Snowplow” that washed up dead on the Rye shore in June 2016. That 45-foot whale drew spectators for days until it was removed.