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Dead right whale off LI presents mystery, challenge for NOAA

This right whale carcass was found off Long

This right whale carcass was found off Long Island. Credit: NYSDEC

A badly decomposed North Atlantic right whale was spotted floating about 5 miles south of Jones Beach, and with just 400 or so of these mammoth creatures still alive, scientists brought it ashore to figure out why it died, officials said Tuesday.

A group of agencies towed the carcass to Jones Beach State Park,  where it arrived around 4:45 p.m..The tow took several hours, moving slowly because of the wind and the whale's level of decomposition. The tow team consisted of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, with help from SeaTow and Town of Hempstead.

This is the first dead North Atlantic right whale found in U.S. waters this year. Canada already has found eight, all in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration says on its website.

On Wednesday, the Hampton-based conservation society and scientists from International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Center for Coastal Studies will conduct a necropsy. They will gather data and samples from the whale to get as much information as the can, including its gender, age, and possible causes of death.

Getting struck by a boat or ensnared in fishing gear are the two primary reasons right whales die, NOAA spokeswomanperson Jennifer S. Goebel said Tuesday. Right whales can live as long as six decades, according to the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at Boston's New England Aquarium.

Currently, the number of North Atlantic right whale breeding females has plunged to about 95, NOAA estimated.

NOAA said that in June 2017 it declared an "Unusual Mortality Event" for North Atlantic right whales, meaning there has been a "significant die-off" of the marine mammal population that demands immediate response. 

Last year, three right whales stranded in the United States. In 2017, the deaths of 17 whales were confirmed: 12 in Canada, and five in this country, the federal agency said.

Right whales mostly stay within 50 miles of the U.S. and Canadian Atlantic coasts, though sometimes pregnant whales and others journey to the southeast, wintering near Florida and Georgia, the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life says.

The whales feed on zooplankton, says the Anderson center.  

NOAA asks members of the public to report sick, injured, stranded, or dead marine mammals to the local stranding network. In New York, call 631-369-9829.

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