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60-foot fin whale buried in Southampton

Members of the Necropsy Team from Riverhead Foundation

Members of the Necropsy Team from Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, as Leader, Kimberly Durham (left) is assisted by Julika Wocial, Rescue Program Supervisor and Robert DiGiovanni Jr., Executive Director assist as the initial cuts of the forensic examination are made. (August 12, 2012) Credit: Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation

The body of a 60-foot female fin whale that washed up in Southampton on Friday received a burial on the beach this weekend.

The whale's carcass had first been sighted floating near Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays, said Rob DiGiovanni, director and senior biologist at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, which received the call Friday.

On Friday night, the remains of the adult whale had washed up east of Tiana Beach, leaving authorities with a problem: What to do with a dead whale weighing between 30 and 40 tons?

DiGiovanni and the Suffolk County Parks Department met on Saturday morning to discuss a plan to dispose of the whale, and by Saturday night, with the help of some heavy equipment, the whale had been safely interred in a secluded spot along a beach.

DiGiovanni said researchers attempted to determine the cause of the whale's death, but were hampered by the fact that the carcass was severely decomposed.

"It had been dead for a while," he said, noting that it was impossible to calculate how long because variations in water temperatures can affect the rate of decomposition.

Researchers were able to discover several areas of bruising on the whale's sides -- evidence of blunt-force trauma -- although it's undetermined how the whale received those injuries and whether they contributed to its death, he said.

The fin whale, also known as a finback whale, is the second-largest animal in the world and has been listed as endangered by New York State and the federal government.

DiGiovanni said fin whales can be found far offshore in the waters off Long Island, and beachings have become more common in the past 10 years, although he said the reason why is still unclear.

"In some years, we've had it happen a couple times a year," he said. "It's not super rare."

Last year, a 46-foot-long finback whale washed up on Atlantic Beach. It most likely had died after being struck by a ship, a spokeswoman for the Riverhead Foundation said at the time. The male whale, which weighed nearly 30 tons, had been feeding close to shore when it was hit and also showed evidence of bruising, officials said.

That whale's body was incinerated at the Town of Hempstead facility.

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