A juvenile minke whale that washed up on a New Hampshire beach this week will undergo a necropsy Wednesday so experts can try to determine what may have led to the marine animal’s death.
But the 2-ton whale’s journey from the shores of Rye, N.H., to the destination where it will be dissected hit a slight snag, capturing the attention of people on the Internet and distracting from the work biologists hoped to accomplish.
The Minke whale was moved from Jenness Beach to a nearby parking lot Monday by a worker operating a front-end loader. Officials had planned to place the whale into a Dumpster and then transport it to a compost facility to perform the necropsy, or animal autopsy.
While trying to tip the whale into the Dumpster, however, the animal proved to be too large. As a worker lowered the animal down, it rolled off of the front of the vehicle, hit the rim of the container, and then bounced off of it and landed on the ground.
In a video taken by a reporter for the Union Leader on Monday, people can be heard gasping in the background as the whale lands — very sadly — with a flop.
Ashley Stokes, marine mammal rescue manager for the Seacoast Science Center, one of the organizations performing Wednesday’s necropsy, said they had anticipated the 16-foot whale fitting in the Dumpster, which was supplied by the state, if it could have been deposited sideways.
But the heavy machinery used to get the animal in there couldn’t turn its bucket diagonally to get the job done, she said. A larger container was later brought in to move the whale.
Stokes said the unfortunate scene was the only “snafu” researchers and crews who helped to transport the animal encountered during the entire operation this week, one that she considers “extremely minimal.”
“For the amount of municipalities and organizations working together to pull the logistics together for beach response, removal, transport, and necropsy . . . everything thus far has gone amazingly well,” she said.
Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium, said “it’s not unheard of” for biologists to use a Dumpster to move a marine animal, especially a smaller one like a minke whale.
Oftentimes, necropsies are performed on the beach, but sometimes, he said, conditions won’t allow it.
“Sometimes you have a location that you either can’t do the necropsy easily or safely, or maybe it’s an area where there’s a sea wall with high tide and you can’t secure the animal, or won’t have a long enough window to perform it,” he said. “So you decide to move it off site.”
Stokes found it upsetting that the video was the focus of the work that experts were trying to get done for the benefit of the whale species.
“It was pretty disappointing, to be honest, that media outlets chose to focus on the one ‘wrinkle’ in the entire operation,” she said, “rather than the animal itself, the hard work all of the organizations and municipalities have put into the whale, and the response itself.”
Stokes said the slight hiccup and media distraction isn’t slowing down their efforts to research the whale’s cause of death, however.
The whale was transported early Tuesday to its final resting place at a compost facility in New Hampshire, where a team from the Seacoast Science Center — with assistance from the New England Aquarium — will perform the necropsy and collect samples to further investigate why the whale died. The animal will then be buried and composted on site, Stokes said.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there have been dozens of minke whale deaths reported along the Atlantic coast — from Maine to South Carolina — since January last year, which has researchers concerned.
Massachusetts was the state with the most reported dead minke whales, according to data from NOAA Fisheries.
Last month, a 27-foot minke whale was found dead near Brant Rock. And on Wednesday, Sept. 12, a dead minke whale was reported floating off the coast of Gloucester.
The deaths come in the midst of three ongoing “unusual mortality” events affecting minke whales, humpback whales, and North Atlantic right whales, according to experts.
Minke whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act but are not listed as threatened or endangered.