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Dead whale found on East Hampton beach, conservation group reports

The report follows Monday's discovery of a decomposing,19-foot-long minke whale on Indian Wells Beach.

A decomposed whale was found on an East Hampton beach Wednesday — the second this week — and biologists are also looking into reports of a dead dolphin that washed ashore in the town, a conservation group said.

The 21-foot-long whale, which washed up just east of Main Beach, was so severely decomposed that only the heart and lung were available to be examined, according to the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society in Hampton Bays. Its species and gender could not be determined, but scientists believe it may be a fin or sei whale, which are both listed as endangered species. Tissue samples were taken to determine its species and perhaps provide some clues to what happened.

The group said biologists on Thursday also plan to investigate calls about a deceased dolphin in East Hampton. Other details on the calls were not immediately available Wednesday night.

These reports follow Monday's discovery of a decomposing,19-foot-long minke whale on Indian Wells Beach.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last year declared an unusual mortality event along the Atlantic Coast for minke whales. In 2017, there were 27 minke strandings, including seven in New York, and there have been 16 so far this year, including three in New York, NOAA said. The causes of their deaths have varied, from vessel strikes to natural deaths, so it has been difficult to determine why more minke whales than usual have washed ashore, NOAA said.

The group's chief scientist, Robert DiGiovanni, said he's concerned about two whales found in East Hampton in three days, though the cause is unclear. The number of carcasses may be going up due to more reporting, an increase in the number of whales around New York or something else, such as a health or environmental problem, he said, but it's hard to tell because researchers lack baseline data for comparison.

"If there are problems in our environment and they're having a hard time making ends meet, that should be something we should look at," DiGiovanni said. 

Whales, along with dolphins and seals, are "indicator species" of environmental problems, he said. They're almost like canaries in a coal mine — if they get sick, the reason could be something that may also affect humans, DiGiovanni said. For example, dolphins and seals eat some of the same fish species that people eat, he said.

The Atlantic Marine Conservation Society asks the public to report sightings of marine animals, dead or alive, in the water or on land, because the information will help them connect the dots as to what's going on, including whether a carcass washed ashore may have been the same one spotted previously some miles away.

The New York State Stranding Hotline is 631-369-9829. The conservation group may also be contacted at sightings@amseas.org.

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