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16th large whale washes ashore on LI as scientists try to determine cause of death

A Minke whale washed ashore in Montauk, the

A Minke whale washed ashore in Montauk, the 16th large whale so far this year.  Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

A Minke whale has washed ashore in Montauk, the 16th large whale on Long Island so far this year.

The Atlantic Marine Conservation Society sent a team out to Camp Hero State Park Wednesday after high tide to see if they could determine the cause of death, said Rob DiGiovanni, chief scientist for the Hamptons Bays-based nonprofit.

But no necropsy could be done, the chief scientist said, so samples were collected — and what led to the whale’s demise remains unknown.

"It’s inconclusive, it was washing around in the surf and is pretty decomposed," said DiGiovanni.

This Minke likely is a female, around 20 to 25 feet long, he said. Females tend to be around two feet longer than males. The marine mammals forage by straining tiny crustaceans, plankton and tiny fish through plates in their mouths, experts said.

Scientists hypothesize the Atlantic is cleaner now than a decade ago, so whales are chasing bunker and other prey closer to shore, putting them at risk of getting fatally struck by tankers and other vessels in New York Harbor, one of the world's busiest for commercial traffic, as well as getting entangled in fishing line.

"Scientists have determined that more than 85 percent of right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once in their lifetime, and 60 percent have been entangled multiple times," the Humane Society said in a statement Wednesday.

Since 2017, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared the deaths of the right whales to be an Unusual Mortality Event, a total of 101 Minkes have come ashore on the East Coast, from Maine to South Carolina.

Necropsies revealed 60% of them died from interactions with people or infections, NOAA's website says. Before this latest casualty, New York's total was 15 Minkes.

NOAA does not classify Minkes — the smallest of the baleen whales — as threatened or endangered. Minkes are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act that requires people to come no closer than 150 feet or risk fines of as much as $100,000 and as long as a year in prison.

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