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Whale euthanized in Moriches Bay, officials react

A humpback whale was stuck on a sandbar

A humpback whale was stuck on a sandbar in Harts Cove in East Moriches on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. Credit: Randee Daddona

Reactions to the humpback whale that was euthanized in Moriches Bay continue to come in days afterward and more than a week after the animal was first found grounded on a sandbar. The whale drew widespread attention last week as officials determined a course of action and many hoped to see it saved, including onlookers who lined the beach for days and officials who weighed in throughout the ordeal.

Here are reactions to the events as they unfolded:

Monday, Nov. 28 — necropsy begins

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine and Town Councilman Dan Panico said that lack of communication between governmental agencies may have contributed to the whale’s death.

In a letter to Donna Wieting, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Silver Springs, Maryland, Romaine and Panico said the whale’s death was “avoidable” and the agency’s response to the animal’s plight was “a case of too little, too late.”

“Inquiries as to a plan for giving the whale a chance at life were met with silence,” they wrote in the letter, dated Monday (Nov. 28). “…The delayed response created the inevitable conclusion that the whale would be considered to be in bad shape once examined by the expert veterinarian four days after stranding.”

Sunday, Nov. 27 — community vigil held in East Moriches

Dozens of people gathered on the shore of Moriches Bay to mourn the whale as a petition was circulated online calling on lawmakers to allow local authorities or private citizens to assist federal agencies in future whale strandings. More than 2,200 people signed the petition as of Sunday night.

Wednesday, Nov. 23

NOAA euthanizes the whale at 1:20 p.m.

In response to the euthanization, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said:

“The state devoted all available resources this week to save the whale and we, along with many New Yorkers, are saddened by today’s unfortunate outcome.”

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) released this statement calling for a Senate hearing:

“It’s with great sadness, dismay and frustration to learn that the NOAA veterinarian euthanized the whale today. Over the past several days, I, along with many others, have been involved in efforts to free the whale that has been beached on a sandbar in Moriches Bay.

We are supposed to be the stewards of the earth, in this instance we failed miserably. When situations such as this occur, we need to take fast corrective actions. Even if the efforts prove not to be ultimately successful, its our human obligation to attempt to save nature’s mammals and other animals.

It’s painfully apparent that with the many levels of government, there are jurisdictional items that need to be addressed to streamline emergency responses. While it is too late for us to save this particular whale, there will be other circumstances to come that will demand quicker action. Accordingly, today I am calling for hearings of the NY Senate Environmental Conservation Committee to begin to tackle the issues that have arisen over this week. It’s critically important that we are able to react to those types of situations quickly.”

Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an environmental advocacy group, released this statement from executive director Adrienne Esposito:

“I’m not only sad, I’m angry. We had absolutely no response for this situation. Congressman Lee Zeldin and Senator Ken LaValle need to form a whale response task force so we can prevent this from happening in the future. Doing nothing is not an option, we are better than that. This scenario can easily happen again and when it does, we need to be ready for it.”

Wednesday morning, Nov. 23 — NOAA veterinarians arrive

As NOAA veterinarians made their assessment, crowds lined the beach for a second day hoping to see the whale saved.

The New York State DEC released this statement:

“DEC has worked very hard to help the whale that is beached in the Moriches Inlet. We understand that NOAA and the federal government will make the determination on what to do. It appears that NOAA believes the whale is terminal and cannot be saved and euthanization is likely. Our biologists concur with NOAA’s assessment that the whale is in very poor health and may not survive, but DEC’s strong opinion is that we should try every option before euthanization. If unsuccessful in our attempts, the only loss will have been our time and effort which we believe is a worthwhile investment. DEC has offered to pay the cost and provide equipment for any rescue attempt. We have communicated that to NOAA and await their response.”

Tuesday, Nov. 22 — NOAA consults

A crowd of people lines the beach in East Moriches to see the whale. NOAA says it is preparing for the possibility it would have to euthanize the animal pending an assessment from its medical team.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo releases a statement:

“New York State is providing full authorization and cooperation to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help save the humpback whale in Moriches Bay. I have directed the Department of Environmental Conservation to make available all state equipment and resources, and coordinate with NOAA on a plan to ensure the well-being of the stranded whale.”

Cuomo’s press secretary Dani Lever later tweets:

“Governor Cuomo understands that NOAA has jurisdiction over the stranded whale as it is an endangered species. However, Governor urges NOAA to do everything possible to save the whale and New York State will provide any resources necessary. As a fisherman and boater, the Governor knows the Moriches Inlet and believes it is possible to get the whale to deeper water. He will provide any equipment necessary from the Department of Environmental Conservation to effectuate the move. NOAA has a veterinarian coming tomorrow morning to examine the whale. The Governor understands that any chance of survival should justify the maximum effort and he is committed to providing it.”

Monday, Nov. 21 — Riverhead Foundation monitors condition

Photos and videos of the whale begin to appear in news reports and on social media.

The Riverhead Foundation releases a statement that it is continuing to monitor the whale’s condition and “exploring every option available in correspondence with NOAA Fisheries and whale experts.”

The organization cautions the public not to go near the whale because it’s size and “stressed condition” make it “very dangerous.”

Sunday, Nov. 20 — whale is grounded

The whale is observed off Hart Cove in Moriches Bay and is grounded on a sandbar. Riverhead Foundation biologists went out on boats to try to create waves and dislodge the whale but were unsuccessful.

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