The carcass of a minke whale washed ashore in Marshfield on Tuesday, marking the 22nd known death for the species in New England — and the 28th reported along the East Coast — during a year of “exceptional die-off,” according to New England Aquarium spokesperson Tony LaCasse.
The carcass was spotted floating off the coast of Scituate this weekend before the harbormaster was alerted around noon Tuesday that it had washed ashore in the Brant Rock area, LaCasse said. It was the second minke in two months to surface on the area’s shore.
Biologists with the aquarium measured the whale at 26 feet in length, indicating it was likely a young adult as the species can grow up to 33 feet, he said. Additional biological assessment was limited due to a significant amount of decomposition.
“The body had been heavily scavenged by sharks and has limited necropsy value in determining its death,” he said.
Due to the location of the whale and a rocky shore “not very accessible to heavy equipment,” town officials will decide on carcass disposal options if needed, he said.
Minke whales are the smallest of baleen whales, and they’re found in local waters, according to LaCasse. While the species is not considered endangered or threatened, all whales are protected in U.S. waters.
Since 2017, the number of minke whale deaths along the East Coast has been higher than normal, according to LaCasse. Massachusetts has reported the greatest number of deaths within New England this year at 11 total.
The increase has led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare “an unusual mortality event” for the species along the East Coast. Preliminary findings by the federal agency found evidence of human interactions or infectious disease in several of the whales.