More Humpback Whale Deaths Under Investigation

R&C Seafood in Oyster, Virginia posted this photo of a humpback whale carcass back in April. R&C Seafood/ Facebook

The concerning trend of humpback whales washing up dead in the Bay region continues— with two more whale carcasses found in Virginia in the past month.

The first humpback washed up in Oyster, a barrier island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it was a partly-decomposed male more than 41 feet long, and had landed on a state-leased clam bed. With the help of a local fisherman, the Virginia Aquarium was able to get to the carcass to take tissue samples for analysis. R&C Seafood in Oyster posted photos of the whale on Facebook.

Then on May 2, the Coast Guard advised the Virginia Aquarium about a dead humpback whale that was struck by a container ship about 60 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. That whale had been decomposed and scavenged, so officials didn’t respond, NOAA explains.

The very same day, NOAA received reports of a whale caught in a commercial fishing net in Ocean City, Maryland. According to the reports, Good samaritans and Natural Resources officers worked to free the large mammal. The next day, the National Aquarium and police worked together to look for the whale. Jennifer Goebel, NOAA spokesperson, tells Bay Bulletin, “It was spotted swimming on the ocean side of Ocean City on May 4, and appeared to be gear-free, though we were not able to confirm that with photographs.”

The National Aquarium is standing by for any new reports of the whale.

Back in January 2016, NOAA declared an Unusual Mortality Event for humpback whales along the Atlantic coast due to the high number of deaths. NOAA tells Bay Bulletin that as of this week there have been 95 humpback fatalities since then. The largest number of deaths over the past three-plus years is in Virginia, where 19 whales have been found dead.

-Meg Walburn Viviano