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Dead whale in Boston Harbor: The downside of waterfront property

Boat captain Steve Leuchte took a close look at the dead finback whale on Rainsford Island on Oct. 9.The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

Last week, the City of Boston had the opposite problem that Captain Ahab had: It got the whale, all right; the issue was what to do with it.

When a dead finback whale was spotted floating in Boston Harbor last week, officials eyed it warily, and not just because of the gnarliness of 75,000 pounds of rotting sea mammal. The removal of a dead whale is, under federal law, the responsibility of whoever owns the property where it ends up — and could cost $20,000. As the week wore on, the city looked like the loser of the so-called “negative lottery,” because the whale came to rest on an uninhabited Boston-owned island. But as city officials pondered whether to tow the carcass somewhere or let it decompose in place, tides brought it to an island owned by the state. Its whereabouts Monday evening were unknown.


No matter who ends up handling the disposal, the whale’s fate may serve a useful purpose. In recent weeks, the Globe has reported on private owners who’ve tried to assert control over public beaches. Last week’s strange whale case offers a reminder that there’s more to owning waterfront property than enjoying the view.