The yearling right whale found dead off the coast of Barnstable last Thursday may have been hit by a ship, according to researchers.
“The preliminary findings from the necropsy found that the whale had suffered blunt force trauma and had bruises consistent with a ship strike,” said Jennifer Goebel, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Researchers from several agencies descended on the carcass Friday to conduct a necropsy. While the results will not be available for at least several weeks, the tests should tell researchers the condition of the animal before it died, Goebel said.
“Our team took a lot of samples from the whale’s organs and things like that. We should be able to tell how healthy the animal was, what kind of damage was done by the blunt force, and possibly when the animal died,” she said.
The North Atlantic right whale remains “one of the two or three most endangered whales in the world” with a population a little over 500.
Right whales continue to congregate off of Cape Cod, with a pod of 163, over 25 percent of the population, being seen just last Wednesday, according to Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown.
The local pod was first spotted in Massachusetts’ waters in late March, leading the administration to place voluntary speed restrictions on any vessel within 12 nautical miles of Boston. It also remains a crime to get within 500 yards of a right whale.
Despite this most recent death, NOAA does not have plans for additional restrictions to protect the whales, NOAA’s Goebel said.
“We’re very concerned about this incident,’’ she said. “A large part of what we do is looking into ways to protect these animals. But at the moment, we aren’t considering any additional restrictions.”
Goebel added though that it was largely up to the public to be aware and act responsibly in waters occupied by whales.
“Go slow and please be careful. They’re hard to see, but they are out there,” she said
Andrew Grant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.