Decomposed right whale adrift off Chappy

Tim Cole from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center takes tissue samples from a decomposed Atlantic right whale adrift off Chappaquiddick. — U.S. Coast Guard under NMFS Permit #18786-02

The rotting carcass of a North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species, was spotted adrift off Chappaquiddick in the vicinity of Tom’s Shoal, according to Coast Guard and NOAA officials. The dead whale was first reported on Sunday in the same area, NOAA spokesman Teri Frady told The Times. Coast Guard personnel from Station Woods Hole ferried four NOAA scientists out to the whale Tuesday evening, according to Frady and Petty Officer Zachary Hupp. The scientists took tissue samples and attached a satellite tag.

The carcass showed signs of “shark predation,” NOAA spokesman Jennifer Goebel said. She added that it isn’t unusual for sharks to feed on dead whales. It’s currently unclear what killed the whale, or even what its gender is, she said. Given that the whale is “very decomposed,” a cause of death may never be known, she said.

At last count in 2017 there were about 450 right whales left, Goebel said, without factoring in the 17 that were lost the same year. The whale off Chappaquiddick marks the second confirmed right whale death in 2018 in the United States and Canada, the first being off Virginia in January.

“There are currently only about 100 females of breeding age in the population, and more females seem to be dying than males,” Goebel wrote in an email. “Births have also been declining in recent years, and no new calves were spotted in the calving grounds off Florida this year.”

“It looks very bad. We’re obviously concerned about the state of the species,” she said.

Edgartown harbormaster Charlie Blair said he hopes tide and current carry the carcass out of Edgartown waters and into Nantucket Sound. However, Goebel said, it may beach.

In a joyless tone, Blair noted they’re called right whales because they would float after whalers’ harpoons killed them.

“It was the right whale to catch for that reason,” Goebel said.