Decomposed sperm whale washes ashore in Edgartown

The whale was visible to beachgoers on Saturday morning. —Hayley Duffy

A dead whale was found washed ashore on South Beach in Edgartown last Friday. Ainsley Smith, marine mammal stranding coordinator at the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said the carcass was a “very decomposed sperm whale,” estimated to be more than 40 feet long.

The animal was first reported on Friday, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) Natural Resources Department, which is a part of NOAA fisheries’ stranding network, responded to the scene. 

Andrew Jacobs, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe laboratory manager, told The Times the whale likely died around two weeks ago at sea before it drifted onto the beach. He also said there was evidence of marine animals having eaten parts of the whale.

Still, a cause of death has not been determined, because of the high level of decomposition and its “unsafe location in the surf,” according to Smith. 

The whale was initially found in the surf of the Right Fork area, Jacobs said. As of Saturday morning, the carcass was slightly farther out in the surf, and was floating in the middle of the Right Fork and Left Fork areas.

Two large sections of the whale are visible to beachgoers. To the right of the carcass, another part of the whale seems to have disconnected, and lies on the beach.

Jacobs said the “tumultuous” South Beach waves moved the carcass back and forth, making it difficult to collect a tissue sample on Friday. 

The tissue sample that was collected came from what seemed to be the whale’s head, Jacobs said. The sample has been deep-frozen, and was sent to NOAA on Monday for possible identification of the animal.

Smith said the decomposed whale will likely wash back out to sea. 

Jacobs said the hope is the animal decomposes and quickly sinks at sea. “We don’t want it to be a navigational hazard,” he said. 

However, if the whale remains on South Beach and becomes “really dry,” NOAA may need to work with the town to remove the animal, Smith said. 

Smith also recommended people stay away from the carcass if they come across it. “Large animals in the surf are very dangerous,” Smith said. 

If you see a stranded, distressed, or dead marine mammal, contact a local stranding network partner, or call NOAA’s stranding hotline, 866-755-6622.

Hayley Duffy contributed to this report.


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