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Dead minke whale washes up in Duxbury

A dead minke whale recently washed ashore in Duxbury and was examined by researchers Tuesday, officials said.

Jennifer Goebel, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the carcass was discovered March 27 in a marshy area near Duxbury Beach.

“They were not able to access it then because of where it was, but they were able to get to it yesterday,” she said in an e-mail.

On Tuesday, a limited necropsy was performed on the whale and some tissue samples were taken, according to Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium.

LaCasse said the dead whale was first spotted by clammers three weeks ago, on the same day that another minke whale washed up in Wellfleet. That whale was alive but died shortly thereafter, he said.

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LaCasse said the dead minke whale that washed up in Duxbury was a 21-foot-long subadult (early adolescent) female “with some kind of marine rope running through its mouth,” which may have been fishing gear or a boat mooring. “She hadn’t eaten in a while,” but the cause of her death is not known, he said.

LaCasse said the number of whales that have died over the past year and a half is “way, way above normal for this particular species.”

Many of the deaths have occurred in Massachusetts waters, he said.

Fifty-nine minke whale deaths have been reported along the Atlantic coast from Maine through South Carolina since 2017, according to the NOAA. Twenty-one of those were in Massachusetts.

LaCasse said minke whales are “the smallest of the large whale species that we have in New England.” They feed on squid and small schooling fish and can grow up to 35 feet long as adults. They are well-distributed up and down the New England coast, and if you’ve been on a whale watch around here, you’ve probably seen one, he said.

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In 2018, NOAA officials declared the recent deaths of minke whales along the Atlantic coast an “unusual mortality event” and an investigation is underway to figure out what’s behind this troubling trend.

North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales also have been dying in high numbers, and NOAA officials consider those deaths to be “unusual mortality events” as well.

LaCasse said there were times last year when “one whale carcass a week” — sometimes minke, sometimes humpback — was washing up on local shores.

“We’re crossing our fingers that we don’t have a repeat of last summer,” he said.

NOAA officials ask the public to immediately report any sightings of injured or stranded whales by calling the Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 866-755-6622.


Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.