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Humpback whale found dead on Duxbury beach

A whale was found on a Duxbury beach this week. It was moved on Wednesday.Laura Kelley

A young humpback whale that washed up on a beach in Duxbury was hauled away Wednesday using a front-end loader so that researchers could perform a necropsy on the animal to determine what caused its death.

New England Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said the 27-foot whale was first spotted floating in the water off Marshfield on Monday. It washed ashore in Duxbury Tuesday night.

By Wednesday morning, a team of specialists from the Aquarium had arrived in Duxbury to study the deceased female “yearling,” a whale that is between 1 and 2 years old.

“She’s quite skinny,” LaCasse said. “We will see if there was some type of underlying health problem, or if she just wasn’t able to forage well.”

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Common causes of whale deaths include the animals getting entangled in fishing gear and being struck by a vessel. But LaCasse said there was no gear on the animal, and there were no obvious signs of trauma.

Humpback whales primarily feed on small schooling fish. LaCasse said they’re “a really sophisticated whale,” and work collaboratively to catch their prey more efficiently. The whales have long fins that help propel them out of the water. They make dramatic leaps that make for memorable moments on whale-watching excursions.

The whale was discovered at the “drive-on” section of the beach, where cars can park on the sand.

Laura Kelley, a Duxbury resident, said she came across the whale around 8 a.m. Wednesday, as she was walking along the beach with her son.

Kelley said aquarium officials had explained to her that the whale, which weighs around 15,000 pounds, would be moved from the area so that researchers could conduct the necropsy, a surgical examination akin to an autopsy on a human.

Kelley took a photograph of the whale, which was on its back, before it was moved.

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“It was pretty interesting,” Kelley said. “I mean, poor whale, but it was interesting to see it and have the New England Aquarium come over and explain everything to me.”

LaCasse said following the necropsy, which will be performed about three-quarters of a mile from where the whale washed ashore, experts will bury the animal in an 8-to-10 foot hole.

“Hopefully, we will get a better idea of what may have contributed to her death,” he said.

An image of the whale was posted to a Facebook page about Duxbury news and beach updates.

A video was also posted to Twitter that showed the whale tied to a rope as it was dragged across the beach by a construction vehicle.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.