Two dead humpback whales wash ashore on Martha’s Vineyard

Federal officials have not determined cause of death.


Two dead whales have been found on Edgartown beaches this week. 

Both have been identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as humpback whales.

On Monday, a partially decomposed humpback was found in Edgartown near Crackatuxet Cove; the second was discovered by beachgoers at East Beach on Chappaquiddick Tuesday morning. 

It is unclear at this time what caused the deaths. 

NOAA Fisheries’ representatives say it’s unlikely that there will be internal examinations to determine cause of death, considering the levels of decomposition. Both whales are estimated to have been dead for at least a few days.

Ainsley Smith, Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office at NOAA, told The Times that from data collected, many of the deceased humpback whales reported in the region over recent years looked to have been either struck by a vessel or had injuries consistent with blunt force or sharp force trauma.

“That was something consistent we were seeing in a number of those whales,” Smith said. 

This does not include reported dead humpbacks that were either too decomposed to determine cause of death or located far offshore. 

According to NOAA, east coast and Mid-Atlantic waters have experienced an anomalous elevated humpback whale mortality rate since 2016 — around the same time the Western North Atlantic humpback was delisted from endangered to threatened. 

This triggered the 2017 declaration of an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) in order to encourage population growth.

An estimated 40 percent of the nearly 200 humpback whale deaths reported over the last eight years from Maine to Florida showed evidence of human interaction via vessel strikes or equipment entanglement.

NOAA officials say that the organization has been in communication with the beach property owners, The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR). The Trustees began cordoning off the East Beach area Tuesday morning. 

TTOR staff later collected a skin sample after documenting basic data for NOAA. According to that preliminary investigation, the whale is estimated to be 31.5 feet long.

Smith says based on pictures she’s received of both humpbacks found on East Beach and South Beach, it’s likely they’ve been dead for at least a couple of days.

NOAA communications specialist Andrea Gomez told The Times that the organization may be able to get assistance from local partners to do an internal exam of the marine mammal. She says plans “are still being developed.” 

According to local animal control, it will be impossible to perform a necropsy or collect further data on the whale found near Crackatuxet.

NOAA says plans are being developed to consider onsite burial. 

Although the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is an authorized responder to stranded marine life reports, NOAA is “leading the logistics” for both cases.

Reports over the weekend of humpback whales breaching out of the water off South Beach have likely no correlation with the dead marine mammal found Monday and Tuesday, NOAA says. Healthy, normal behavior of the animals is acrobatic and lively in nature — consistent with what witnesses on South Beach reported over the weekend.

When asked if there’s been any indication whether current and ongoing offshore and subsurface construction could be to blame for the fatalities, Smith said “at this point we are not aware of any ties between wind development and the death of the whales in the Mid-Atlantic.” 

Meanwhile, the corpse of what seems to be a dolphin was spotted on Moshup Beach in Aquinnah. The Times reached out to NOAA for identification of the animal but have not received an answer yet.

Eunki Seonwoo contributed to this report


    • They are dieing due to the vibrations of the Island’s existing electric cables and the thump, thump, thump of the turbine blades that were delivered to New Bedford last week (sarc.).

  1. Your numbers are incorrect. The UME for humpbacks began in 2016, the same year Offshore Wind survey boats appeared in the northeast and mid Atlantic.

    The UME was not announced until April 2017.

    Also regarding vessel strikes or entanglements, otherwise known as human interaction, (HI) most recently updated to 90 whales overall of the whales that washed up were necropsied. Based on NOAA data approx 40 percent of those 45 necropsied Whales had signs of either vessel strikes or entanglements.
    A sign of human interaction, an entanglement sign in of itself, could mean a past scar, from a rope or propeller. That does not inherently mean that that was the acute cause of death. That would only be determined through a full Level C necropsy, yet NOAA doesn’t tell us how many of the necropsies were partial Vs full (Level B Vs Level C.)
    The average annual humpback whale vessel strike figure pre 2016 UME, from Maine to NC was 1.4 humpback vessel strikes per year. starting at 7:30-10:30 mins
    In 2016 there were 10 humpback whale vessel strikes, and OSW surveys were being done in five states, with construction at BIWF.

    • Great STATS!! Now, can you actually get a PERSON from NOAA to come to the island–in PERSON–and determine what is happening to all these whales and dolphins that people keep finding on our shores?? I haven’t had any luck. In addition to those tasty snacks, harbor seals are lounging in the sun along the south shore. No one wants to talk about sharks and safety around here (besides me), but they will!

  2. Was it the existing vibrating cables that bring power to the Island or the turbine blades that have been delivered to New Bedford?

  3. Dear Vineyard Wind,

    It’s the only way we could get your attention.
    Please leave our Ocean Home alone, or many more will die.


  4. boaters: ugh……… more concerned about partying than the life of a whale or other marine animal………… no one gives a care………. truly sad

  5. Of course, those that are opposed to the Vineyard wind project will, without any shred of evidence blame the windfarm. If the necropsy reveals that these whales died from the blunt force trauma of getting run over by oil tankers, they will declare the people who state this are incorrect, corrupt, part of some sort of conspiracy theory or are being paid off.
    The deep seated biases are hard to overcome with mere facts.
    It happened with the trial for the murder of Emit Till, the Central Park 5, and the witches in Salem Ma.
    We will see- Unfortunately, some will just not believe the facts– I will tell you, that if the necropsy reveals that V.W was in any way responsible for these deaths, I will strongly voice my opposition to V.W and call for at least a pause in construction while they figure out how to prevent any other marine mammals from being injured.
    I ask you specifically, Martha, If it is determined that they were killed by a ship strike, will you quit blaming V.W for EVERYTHING ?

    • Some people are so obsessed with so called facts that it irritates them significantly when others dont step up and accept those facts. Then they get more obsessed with the so called denial of others that the issue at hand is obscured and they launch out at the deniers rather than leave the subject alone. Its a form of beating a dead horse and it can cause heart palpitations.

      • Yes, andy– It is much easier to just think that Poseidon has been killing the whales. It has never been proven that Poseidon doesn’t have absolute control over the oceans after all. In fact, a lot of people believed it until some irritating “no it all’s” started to point out that things like the wind actually caused waves and proposed a “theory” that tsunamis are caused by earthquakes . Of course that theory is completely ludicrous, as Afghanistan often has earthquakes but has never had a tsunami.
        So what do we do IF these whales are found to have large lacerations that are consistent with the type of injury caused by getting struck by the propellor of a large ship ? Are you suggesting that we just ignore that observation and start a movement to overthrow Poseidon ?
        Poseidon is killing the whales, don’t you agree that His time is up ?
        He’s really old by the way.. Clearly too old to manage the oceans.
        It’s time for new leadership at the bottom.
        save the whales.

  6. DEAD WHALES=DANGER!! SHARKS!! you do NOT want to hang out around dead whales!! they are absolutely jammed FULL of bacteria that can kill you, and attract sharks and other scavengers. STEER CLEAR!! either NOAA will remove it for study, or it will be towed out to sea where it can feed many other aquatic foragers all the way down the line to the bottom, what is referred to as a “whale fall”. it can take decades to fully decompose, providing much-needed nutrients for deep sea creatures. i think everyone is hoping Vineyard Wind isn’t to blame, and i have to admit i’m not up on how much noise these turbines make underwater. however, i will find out. due to the fact that the near-extinct right whales (a whole 230 left) chatter to each other to navigate, and sound is going to interrupt their voyages, and possibly make them veer off-course. humpbacks use sonar, which would also be disrupted. the Japanese have been banging two metal pipes together underwater to confuse dolphins for years. they are RUTHLESS killers, banging and screaming and yelling to the point where the dolphins are so incredibly panicked and confused, they actually leap OUT of the water onto rocks, into the’s a horrible, horrible hunt that happens 6 months out of every year. the screams of the mothers and children trying to find each other is heartbreaking, but these hunters are ruthless. i recommend “The Cove”, if you haven’t seen it. which was put out by the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS). they actually offered the hunters the same amount of money they make in a year hunting these beautiful, intelligent and playful creatures, but they declined. unbelievable!! so, i’ve got my fingers crossed that they are quiet below. right whales are federally protected, so i’d be interested in finding out more about this issue if anyone can steer me in the right direction. you can find me and much, much more about the island’s 5 species of sharks at Azi~

  7. Azi– There are a lot of variables about the sound of the turbines, including the size of the pole, construction techniques to mitigate the sound and the temperature of the water, among many others.
    But for reference
    A large container ship generates about 190 db.
    Pile driving of the monopoles can generate up to 160 db , but V.W is applying a new technology in the form of a bubble wall to reduce that level
    Here is a 5 minute video of how that works.:
    I do not know how effective it is.
    Pile driving is restricted to daylight hours, and must stop is if either electronic of visual surveillance detects any marine mammal within 6 miles of the pile driving operations.
    They also start of with light taps and gradually raise the level to allow any marine life to flee the area.
    During normal operations a turbine can generate between 105 to125 db.
    About the volume of a jet ski.
    Hope that helps.

    • Thanks, Don. I actually did hear about the great “bubble-wrap” debate. Who knows if it will work, but I admire the fact that they are trying. Every time I go on the boat, I ask employees about whale strikes, and they suddenly stop talking. NOAA still hasn’t done a thing about the beautiful marine mammals that are washing up on local beaches, except to make sure they aren’t responsible for removal. YAY! Environmental protection in action! So, I think the debate will rage on due to the lack of investigation. I mean, no big, right? There’s still like, 230 right whales left. PLENTY of time to score that extinction too! GOOOOO HUMANS!

  8. Stop vineyard wind 100% offshore wind development we have never seen whale deaths like this stop blaming fishing remember your food come from fishing not wind farms

    • John.
      The recent number of whale deaths is not unprecedented. it is unusually high I agree, but not a single whale has been determined to have died as a result of anything to do with offshore wind development.
      What am I supposed to blame ?
      Nearly all deaths we can conclusively state the cause of death are either entanglement or ship strikes.
      You are suggesting that V.W stop.
      If all we were concerned about were the whales, it would be a no brainer to ban all fishing and all cargo ships since those are direct cause of the overwhelming majority of unnatural deaths in whales.
      I’m not saying we should do that, but no one has as of yet, produced any credible evidence that offshore wind is a threat to whales, so why stop it ?
      Sorry–that’s the reality.
      As for electricity– yes, we can’t eat it, but not a whole lot of fish would ever get out of the water and onto a plate without it.

  9. Just a coincidence that Vineyard Wind reported their first monopole has been successfully driven in on the same day these whale deaths were noted in the press. This following a dozen dead whales off the new jersey shore and its wind “farm”. Can we call it by what it is? Offshore industrial power plant. A halt to any further construction until it is proven otherwise that there is no connection. What happened to Save the whales?

    • just a coincidence that whales have been regularly washing up on the east coast ( at slightly higher rates than normal ) before any offshore wind farms drove a single pole.
      You mention New Jersey’s wind farm.
      Could you tell me more about that ?
      I seem to be able to only find proposed wind farms there.
      It seems there are only 2 offshore wind farms on the entire eastern seaboard.
      One off of Block island — which despite false claims about its demise, is still cranking out electricity— and one off the coast of Virginia.
      As far as I can tell, V.W is the only one currently in the actual construction phase.
      But of course, I am only using google and Wikipedia.
      But I was along the Jersey shore last December and didn’t see any.

      As for coincidences, let me take a line from the climate deniers…
      Whales have been dying for millions of years.

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