A dead humpback whale was found on Fire Island National Seashore this week — the eighth large whale that has washed ashore in New York waters this year, officials said.
The discovery came just two days after scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cut the population estimate for another New York-area whale species, the North Atlantic right whale.
The male humpback — found about three months after it took rescuers four days to free another humpback from two tons of fishing gear — was about 28 feet long and had moderate decomposition, according to the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society. It likely was an older juvenile or a young adult.
When fully grown, humpbacks — known for their spectacular breaches — can reach 60 feet and live nine decades, experts say.
Officials from the conservation society, the Fire Island National Seashore, the National Park Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation all responded on Wednesday. The humpback’s baleen — the plankton-trapping filter in its mouth — washed ashore separately from the rest of it. The scientists were able to examine the remains and tissue samples will be scrutinized by pathologists, officials said.
An internal examination can't be completed unless there is a disposal plan for the whale, the conservation society said. But the whale’s location near the Old Inlet Breach — across from Bellport on the mainland or about 65 miles east of Manhattan — is difficult to reach and the stormy weather, with possibly 10-foot swells expected Thursday night courtesy of Tropical Storm Zeta, mean it will remain where it is for the moment.
"Without the resources available and limitations due to the animal’s location, it is being left on the beach," the conservation society said. "AMSEAS will continue to work with partners to monitor the animal as impending inclement weather prohibits the response to continue."
For the last decade or so, New Yorkers have been seeing more whales. Researchers suspect this is because the ocean is cleaner and bunker fish are more abundant as a result.
Humpbacks are one of three species of whales in the New York area whose numbers are declining due to what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls an unusual mortality event.
Only 896 humpbacks were tallied in 2015 in the Atlantic Ocean. The other two species, which are at risk of extinction, are the minke whale and the North Atlantic right whale.
The preliminary estimate of the number of right whales was cut by NOAA on Monday to 366 as of January 2019. NOAA also said the unusual mortality event it declared in 2017 was worse than initially suspected, and thus it also lowered the estimate for the population as of January 2018 to 383 from 412.
Collisions with ships and getting snarled in fishing gear are the top known problems killing these whales.