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NOAA cites ‘chronic entanglement’ in death of juvenile right whale that washed up on Martha’s Vineyard

A deceased whale had washed up near Joseph Sylvia State Beach on the Vineyard.Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic/NOAA Permit # 24359.

Rope entanglement appears to be a factor in the death of a juvenile North Atlantic right whale that washed up on Martha’s Vineyard on Jan. 28, federal officials said Monday.

NOAA Fisheries said in a statement that the whale “had a chronic entanglement and was seen in poor health before its death. Experts are examining the rope and other samples collected from the whale.”

The deceased whale washed up near Joseph Sylvia State Beach on the Vineyard, officials said. NOAA Fisheries worked with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and other partners to recover the carcass and conduct a necropsy.

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“Preliminary observations indicated the presence of rope entangled near the whale’s tail,” officials said.

The necropsy, which was completed Feb. 1, “confirmed a chronic entanglement, with rope deeply embedded in the tail, and thin body condition,” the agency said. “The necropsy showed no evidence of blunt force trauma.”

The cause of death is pending until further testing, officials said.

With only about 360 North Atlantic right whales remaining, 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).

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Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.