Dead whale lodges on harbor island

Sea may reclaim 55-foot finback

Alley Luisi (left) and boat captain Steve Leuchte got a close-up view of a dead finback whale that came to rest on Rainsford Island in Boston Harbor Tuesday
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Alley Luisi (left) and boat captain Steve Leuchte got a close-up view of a dead finback whale that came to rest on Rainsford Island in Boston Harbor Tuesday

RAINSFORD ISLAND – The largest piece of floatsam in ­Boston Harbor, a 55-foot-long finback whale, came to rest Tuesday on a stretch of sharp, slippery rocks on the southwest corner of Rainsford Island, near the tip of Hull. This may or may not be the final resting place of the only whale to die in Boston Harbor in at least a generation or two.

Once there, with its first chance to dry out in the air, it did what dead whales do as well as anything – it let off a stink that could be bottled and used as a weapon.

The second largest creature on planet Earth, the finback was spotted Sunday near Black Falcon Cruise Terminal in South Boston and from there went on a slow tour of the harbor, pushed by currents and moon cycles and chance from Long Island to Boston Light to Rainsford, where it marooned itself on its side.


From the moment the whale was spotted, officials have been watching what is known as a “negative lottery,” wondering where the whale would end its float. Federal law says that if a whale beaches on your land, you’re on the hook for the disposal, which can run you $20,000.

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Nobody budgets for that, and they often expect that the New England Aquarium is going to take care of it because they assume that is what the aquarium does, according to spokesman Tony LaCasse. The aquarium is interested in the science – examining the body and taking samples – but it is not going to cart off nearly 100,000 pounds of blubber.

If the high tide does not dislodge the whale from its current location on the rocks of Rainsford Island, it will be a good and bad spot for all that meat to stop. The aquarium team visited the site on a Coast Guard boat Tuesday and does not think it will be able to do any sort of necropsy on those rocks.

The aquarium is losing ­interest in it anyway, LaCasse said, because the body has been so beaten up on its journey. A necropsy requires 12 people and serious commitment, and its value diminishes each day.

Rainsford Island is only access­ible by someone willing to make a rocky wet landing on the other side of the island and from there make a short hike along a rocky bend to a slate wall with a walkable top. Just past the end of wall, down ­below, is something too large to compare.


In death, there on the rocks, the giant whale was still impossibly majestic. It was hard to ­believe that even the sea could hold up something that large, and to see it in full profile is a sight. Boats slowed going by. None were its size by half.

For now, it sits. But soon the birds will come en masse. Then winter. And endless tides. Eventually, it will all be gone. Nature budgets for it. But the smell, the old whalers always said, stays with you forever.

Billy Baker can be reached at