The remains of the humpback whale that was euthanized in Moriches Bay were buried Monday after a team of marine scientists conducted a necropsy, or animal autopsy, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman said.
The necropsy team found the hematoma on the whale’s tail during the examination Monday morning but have not yet determined whether it “contributed to the cause of death,” NOAA spokeswoman Jennifer Goebel said.
A hematoma is the collection of blood outside the blood vessels and indicates the whale suffered some sort of trauma, according to Goebel. Hematomas are commonly found on whales that have been hit by ships, but Goebel said Monday afternoon the team had not found any evidence of a vessel strike.
The juvenile whale — a female measuring 29.5-feet-long and weighing about 15 tons — was moved to Cupsogue Beach County Park Sunday morning where 20 representatives from the Northeast Marine Mammal Stranding Network documented the extent of the animal’s injuries and collected tissue samples for analysis in order to learn more about what caused the whale to strand. Scientists are expected to issue a summary of their findings in the coming days, Goebel said.
The whale was first seen stranded on a sandbar Nov. 20 and it remained grounded in the shallow water for four days before it was euthanized by veterinarians.
The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation had attempted unsuccessfully to help the animal dislodge itself the day it was found by using a boat to create waves nearby.
By the time the whale was assessed last Tuesday, it had suffered significant cardiovascular injury and also exhibited signs of neurological damage, making euthanasia the most humane option, according to Craig Harms, a veterinarian who examined the whale.
Several community members have criticized the decision to euthanize the whale and are upset that more wasn’t done to try and free it.
More than 2,400 people have signed an online petition calling on lawmakers to allow local authorities or private citizens to assist federal agencies in future whale strandings.
The Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a Long Island-based environmental group, also has urged officials to create a “whale rescue task force” comprised of local agencies.
Several politicians and state officials also weighed in. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos made statements last week urging NOAA to take any action necessary to try to save the whale. State Sen. Kenneth Lavalle criticized the handling and called for a hearing to discuss how to deal with whale strandings in the future. Most recently, Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine and Town Councilman Dan Panico called the whale’s death “avoidable.”
In a letter to Donna Wieting, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Silver Springs, Maryland, Romaine and Panico said the agency’s response to the animal’s plight was “a case of too little, too late.”
In response to criticism, Goebel said NOAA had been working with the Riverhead Foundation since it was notified of the stranding and had been “consulting with experts around the country to determine the best course of action.”
Goebel added that NOAA will “review our internal protocol to see how we can improve things to better work with the community.”