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Scientist: Trauma may have killed whale

Members of The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research

Members of The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation perform a necropsy on a dead whale that washed up on the ocean beach in Amagansett. (Jan. 14, 2013) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A 58-foot female finback whale that washed up dead along an East Hampton beach Sunday may have died from blunt force trauma caused by hitting a vessel, according to an examination conducted Monday by marine biologists.

"There is evidence that human interaction may have been a contributory factor to her death," said Robert DiGiovanni, executive director and senior scientist with The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.

The foundation conducted a necropsy on the mammal Monday after reports of a beached whale along a stretch of beach in Napeague came in Sunday around 8 a.m.

Scientists have sent out tissue samples collected from the whale for further study, but a complete analysis may pose a challenge because the whale's body was heavily decomposed, and it is believed to have been dead for at least two weeks, DiGiovanni said.

He said the whale had "blunt force trauma" on the left side of her body near her head, which indicated "interaction with a vessel of some kind." He said the whale also had "entanglement" markings on her body that were likely present well before her death.

Town of East Hampton officials were working to remove the body from the beach by Monday night, DiGiovanni said.

On Sunday, a 5-foot-long pygmy sperm whale was found along a beach in Amagansett, just hours after the finback was discovered. The juvenile pygmy, which was believed to be around 2 years old, washed up alive. But he was euthanized after scientists determined he was too sick to recover.

DiGiovanni said a necropsy will be conducted on the pygmy on Tuesday, but the two incidents do not appear to be connected.

In late December, a finback whale was found beached along a Breezy Point beach in Queens. The animal later died and was buried. Riverhead Foundation officials say that whale died from kidney failure caused by a parasite.

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