A group of people fishing off of Martha’s Vineyard Saturday were surprised when what they thought was a tuna jumping out of the water turned out to be at least one shark tearing into a 30-foot-long whale carcass.
Alycia Markowski, her brother, and their respective children were at a fishing ground known as “The Dump” around 11:30 a.m., when they saw something on the water’s surface. They drove their boat closer to the object and realized whatever was in the water was not diving back under, Markowski said.
“When we were approaching it, we were, like, ‘What is that?’ ” said Markowski, a physical therapy professor at Northeastern University. “Then, in unison, we said it stunk.”
The object turned out to be a rotting 30-foot North Atlantic right whale carcass. And a closer look revealed a shark munching on the carcass, Markowski said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
In fact, she said, there might have been two sharks sharing the late-morning snack.
The family was only around the carcass for about eight minutes before venturing off to catch more tuna.
“I’ve never seen a whale carcass,” Markowski said, “but we have seen sharks every time we go out.”
“We always see a fin but never any activity,” she said.
The carcass was so decomposed that experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said a necropsy was not possible.
The carcass was first reported to the US Coast Guard Sunday near Tom’s Neck Point. Researchers who went to the area confirmed it was a right whale, NOAA spokeswoman Jennie Lyons said.
A solar-powered tag was placed on the whale’s flipper to monitor its location, and tissue samples were taken for examination, Lyons said. If the carcass naturally washes up on shore, more samples will be taken, and the carcass will be disposed of.
It was the second confirmed right whale death this year, Lyons said. The first was reported in the waters off Virginia in January.
Since 2017, there has been an increase in right whale deaths, with five last year, and now two this year, according to the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service.
Necropsies can take weeks to months to determine causes of death. Most of the time, the examination does not produce results, NOAA spokeswoman Jennifer Goebel said.
The most common causes of death for whales are ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear, in addition to natural causes, Goebel said.