Right whale was entangled in 2022

The whale will undergo a necropsy to uncover more about it.


Updated Feb. 1

The female right whale that washed up dead in Edgartown this week has been individually identified from the aquarium’s North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog, and researchers say she was seen entangled in fishing line as far back as 2022.

The New England Aquarium announced in a press release Friday that using photographic evidence in the catalog, its scientists identified the whale as an unnamed three-year-old known as Catalog #5120, the only known calf of the whale Squilla (Catalog #3720).

In a release from the Aquarium, the whale was seen entangled in fishing gear in August 2022 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. Her condition at that time was described in a new press release from the aquarium: “She had multiple wraps of line around her tail and flukes, two small buoys at the flukes, and an estimated 200 feet of line trailing behind her. The entanglement was deemed serious because—at only 1 year old—the rope encircling her tail stock would likely tighten as she grew.”

Multiple attempts were made to disentangle the whale in January and February in 2023 off Cape Cod. She was seen again in June when she was in worse condition, 60 miles northeast of Shippagan, Canada.

The whale was seen off the shore of the Vineyard on Sunday, and washed ashore soon after.

On Thursday, a necropsy (the equivalent of an autopsy for an animal) was conducted on the whale. Preliminary information may be available soon, but a source from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that the full analysis could take up to two months. 

Over 20 biologists were present from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), New England Aquarium, Virginia Aquarium and more.

The whale’s bones and baleen have been claimed by the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head for their potential use, and the rest of the animal will be buried on-site.

Right whales have been important in Wampanoag culture for thousands of years, and on Wednesday night, the tribe held a ceremony honoring the animal with prayer and songs from tribal members.

Jason Baird, Medicine Man of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe, was present at the necropsy on Thursday. Traditional Wampanoag practices, Baird said, include making tools and ornamental art from whale bones. Right whales have been important to the tribe’s culture for millennia, and the tribe’s official seal also features the species. “We have documentation of people whaling since documentation exists, and we have oral tradition of whaling going back before that. The last known cases of Wampanoag whaling were some of our relatives in the early 20th century,” Baird said. “My grandmother’s father was a whaleman. I have other relatives that were whalers. And some of those people were alive in my lifetime.”

The right whale was originally towed from Cow Bay to Aquinnah on Thursday.

A preliminary investigation from earlier this week indicates that entanglement in rope is a potential cause of death of the young whale. Entanglements and ship strikes are the leading causes of right whale deaths and serious injuries.

Personnel from NOAA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head’s (Aquinnah) Natural Resources Department and more were present on Wednesday, Jan. 31, in a day-long effort to move the animal from the beach.

The effort to tug the whale away by boat hit its snags along the way. 

To begin, an IFAW team shoveled the sand around the whale and hauled the tail of the heavy animal — estimated to be between 20,000 and 25,000 pounds — to a better position for towing.

Around 1:30, according to IFAW marine mammal rescue director Brian Sharpe, the line towing the whale may have gotten tangled with a winter mooring stick when the line became slack. 

“[We’re] trying to figure that out right now, figure out other options,” Sharpe said at the time. “As we kind of diagnose that, we’re going to be in a bit of a holding pattern until we figure out how to proceed.”

A diver arrived on the scene about an hour later to fix the issue. A second attempt, at nearly 4 pm, with the sun going down, proved fruitful. The whale pushed through sand while its body slowly submerged into the Atlantic as it was dragged away by the tugboat. With a Massachusetts Environmental Police escort, the carcass was pulled from Cow Bay.

IFAW stranding coordinator Misty Niemeyer said it’s always a challenge to move a whale from the beach safely due to the size and weight of the animal. “It takes some time, but we had a lot of things in place and contingencies planned,” she said.

Niemeyer said it’s always tough to see another dead animal. “Particularly for [right whales] because it’s a critically endangered species and every dead animal means that it’s harder for that species to recover and survive,” Niemeyer said.

Andrew Jacobs from the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe Natural Resources Department said the whale removal was an “incredible collaborative effort.”

“There’s so many people who are involved in making this happen,” he said. “Certainly some pitfalls along the way and some difficulties, but nothing that this group couldn’t overcome.”

Throughout the day, curious Islanders came to take a gander at the large animal. One of the visitors, Nicole Holland, said she had never seen a beached whale before — let alone a rare species like the North Atlantic right whale. She said that she was sad the whale died but saw it as an educational opportunity for her son, Westin. 

Westin has been learning about right whales at the Oak Bluffs School, and he got a lesson about the right whale from an IFAW team member Wednesday afternoon.


  1. I was told by someone that it was going to Aquinnah to be used for educational purposes. So I was checking here to see if in fact, that’s true as the rumor mill Works quick.

  2. I didn’t see why ( more room? it a beach!) they needed to move the whale from one beach to another? How much trauma, tissue and organ damage did this trouble plagued tow cause to the deceased whale?

  3. Well, I guess that tying a rope around
    the tail, which was where the suspected
    original entanglement was, ruins any
    evidence that might indicate entanglement
    was the cause. So ok– let the wind-o-phobes
    roll out the conspiracy theories.

  4. All the social media experts and fisherman who were so quick to blame the ” Wind Farm ” for this whales death sure do look silly now.

    Why do we let the teams from the fossil fuel industries keep spreading misinformation about wind farms?

    Vessel strike and fishing gear entanglements are #1 and #2 killers of whales.

  5. Thank you for honoring Catalog #5120, with prayers and songs. Her struggle has deeply shaken me. Knowing there was a ceremony for this entangled right whale offers me comfort and I am thankful.

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