40° Good Morning
40° Good Morning

Beached whale dies off Rockaways; necropsy planned

Volunteers pour water on a beached whale to

Volunteers pour water on a beached whale to keep it alive in the Rockaway Inlet off Breezy Point. (Dec. 26, 2012) Credit: John Roca

The 60-foot finback whale that died early Thursday will be examined on the Rockaway beach it came to rest upon and then buried beneath federal sand dunes nearby, officials said.

Biologists plan to perform a necropsy -- the equivalent of an autopsy, performed on animals -- Friday or Saturday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

Biologists, led by personnel from the Riverhead Foundation, will perform the necropsy once excavators and similar equipment become available to tow the whale, said NOAA spokeswoman Allison McHale.

The whale is estimated to weigh between 25 and 30 tons.

Robert DiGiovanni, executive director and senior biologist of the Riverhead Foundation, said his nonprofit will lead a necropsy team of at least three experts, including possibly personnel from other marine rescue groups. Getting as many tissue samples as possible could take anywhere from two hours to two days, depending on the whale's decomposition and timing of tides, he said.

DiGiovanni said gathering samples will be challenging, and heavy equipment might be used to help his team: "It's a big animal so everything you're doing is magnified, moving the animal around, working around the animal."

The samples will be sent to a lab, and results could take months, he said. DiGiovanni said the foundation, which relies on private donations, was being taxed by the project's $8,000 to $10,000 cost.

The whale washed ashore, barely alive, at Breezy Point on Wednesday and was swept back to sea with the high tide overnight Thursday. It washed from Jamaica Bay onto federal parkland, where biologists found it about 9 a.m. Thursday. They saw no breathing and determined it had died, said Mendy Garron, Northeast stranding coordinator for NOAA.

"The National Park Service and the New York City sanitation department have been working with us to try to secure heavy equipment to move the whale up higher on the beach, up towards the dune area, where they will conduct a necropsy," McHale said.

More news