On Saturday, August 12, 2023, city officials were notified of a floating humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) carcass washing ashore at Takanassee Beach in Long Branch.
The whale was first seen floating in waters off of a town further south along the Jersey shore.
The Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMSC), with the support of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMSEAS), worked with city officials to secure the animal and develop plans for a necropsy, or animal autopsy, to gather information to help learn more about the whale’s physiology and document any factors that may have contributed to the animal’s death.
The 27-foot-long male had been observed frequently in New Jersey waters and in October 2022 was seen with one side of its tail fluke severed.
On August 13, a necropsy was conducted by MMSC and AMSEAS with support from the municipality and county.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, during such exams, experts look for physical wounds or parasites, bacterial and viral infections, toxic algae exposure, as well as new diseases that might have contributed to the animal’s death.
“Preliminary necropsy findings for the subadult male humpback whale revealed suspected blunt force trauma to the caudal head and neck region,” said a statement published by MMSC. “The cause of death from field examination is suspected blunt force trauma consistent with a vessel strike. This suspected vessel strike is the second documented for this individual as a severed fluke blade was documented in 2022.”
“Additional findings from the examination confirmed that the animal had been feeding on fish prior to its death,” said MMSC. “Tissues were collected and will be sent for histopathologic analysis. Following the necropsy, the whale was buried on the beach.”
The City of Long Branch expressed thanks for the swift action taken by the beach staff for immediately securing the area and notifying proper authorities on Saturday.
Throughout the weekend, Monmouth County services were there to assist city staff.
“Thank you to our city employees, Monmouth County resources, and to the local organizations for their quick response and professionalism this weekend,” said Mayor John Pallone.
“Monmouth County is committed to helping its towns and municipalities whenever they call for assistance,” said Monmouth County Commissioner Director Thomas A. Arnone. “The Monmouth County Board of County Commissioners is grateful to have the resources and personnel to assist our municipalities when called upon.”
At least 11 previous whales and at least 12 dolphins also died along New Jersey’s shores since December 1, 2022. The most recent marine mammal fatality was a dead 28-foot-long female humpback whale found floating in Raritan Bay on May 31. She appeared to have died from blunt and sharp force trauma consistent with a vessel strike, according to preliminary results from NOAA.
The MMSC, the only federally-authorized animal hospital in New Jersey that responds to provides medical treatment for aquatic animals in distress, and AMSEAS, a non-profit organization of biologists and volunteers with decades of experience, are uniquely prepared for emergency responses involving marine mammals.
All dolphins, porpoises, and whales are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes touching, feeding, or otherwise harming these animals illegal.
The best way to assist these animals, and keep them and yourself safe, is by calling trained responders and maintaining a 150-foot distance.
To report strandings of marine mammals and sea turtles in New Jersey, please call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center Stranding Hotline at: 609-266-0538.
To report strandings of marine mammals and sea turtles in all other states in the northeast, call NOAA’s stranding hotline to be directed to a trained responder in your area: 866-755-6622.
“Our entire team is deeply saddened by the death of this beautiful whale that we have come to know as a resilient individual who, after enduring a devastating injury, was able to adapt to his compromised fluke and carry on,” said MMSC.