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Right whale found dead off Martha’s Vineyard to undergo necropsy

A female right whale was found dead off Martha's Vineyard on Jan. 28.Michael Moore/Associated Press

The carcass of a dead North Atlantic right whale that washed up on Martha’s Vineyard is scheduled to be towed in from the water Wednesday so experts can determine what caused its death, officials said.

If all goes according to plan, a necropsy will be performed on the female whale by a team of 16 biologists and veterinarians on Thursday, according to Brian Sharp, the director of International Fund for Animal Welfare’s marine mammal rescue program.

“Our biggest hurdle will be tomorrow,” Sharp said in an interview Tuesday.

The next step will be refloating the whale’s 30-foot-long body, which weighs approximately 11 tons, he said.

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“A necropsy can’t be performed where it is now in the surf,” he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries was notified about the dead whale on Sunday afternoon after it was discovered near Joseph Sylvia State Beach on Martha’s Vineyard, NOAA officials said.

The whale was believed to be a juvenile and had rope entangled around and deeply embedded in its tail. Samples of the rope are being examined by gear experts, NOAA officials said.

Samples of the rope will be examined by gear experts, NOAA officials said Tuesday.NOAA

A large tow vessel will be used to move the whale to the shore on Wednesday. It will then be loaded onto a flatbed trailer and taken to the site on the Vineyard where the necropsy will be performed, Sharp said.

On Thursday, the veterinarians and biologists will start early in the morning and spend 7 to 8 hours examining “every part of the animal,” Sharp said.

“It will be an all-day effort,” Sharp said.

Preliminary results could be available within a week or two, and the final report could be ready in a month or two, he said.

“This is what we prepare for,” Sharp said. “It’s incredibly important to determine why they have they died.”

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With only about 360 North Atlantic right whales left, the species is approaching extinction, according to NOAA officials.

Philip Hamilton, senior scientist at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, said more protections are needed to ensure their survival.

“This has been a tragic month for North Atlantic right whales, beginning with news of a calf seriously injured by a boat propeller and now the death of a juvenile female,” Hamilton said in a statement. “The time to implement bold protections to protect this critically endangered species from human-caused impacts is now if we are to avoid extinction.”

The public is urged to report any sightings of injured or stranded whales (dead or alive) and maintain a 150-foot distance from them. The Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline can be reached at 866-755-6622 and the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 877-WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343).

Correspondent Lila Hempel-Edgers contributed to this report.


Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22.