Rare North Atlantic Right Whale Washes Up On Monomoy

By: Cape Cod Chronicle

The carcass of a North American right whale washed up on Monomoy Island last week. NICHOLE NUTTALL/USFWS PHOTO


CHATHAM – The body of a rare North Atlantic right whale washed up on Monomoy Island last week.

There was no obvious sign of the cause of death, said International Fund For Animal Welfare spokesperson Melanie Mahoney. The body was “pretty heavily decomposed” and appeared to be a juvenile, not a fully-grown adult, she said.

The carcass was previously spotted by a recreational boater floating near Martha's Vineyard, and was discovered on the east shore of South Monomoy mid week. A team from IFAW did a necropsy on the animal Aug. 30.

“We don't know much at this point,” Mahoney said about the cause of death and the whale's identity, due to the level of decomposition. It was impossible to determine if any signs of trauma on the body were the pre- or post-mortem. Tests will help determine that, as well as the cause of death, and results typically take about eight weeks, she said.

North Atlantic right whales are among the rarest animals on the planet. Only about 400 exist, and many spend summer off Cape Cod. The New England Aquarium maintains an online digital catalog that identifies right whales by physical characteristics and barnacle patterns, but it is unlikely that will help identify this individual.

“When an animal is this decomposed, all of that is gone,” Mahoney said. Researchers may be able to use DNA to help identify the whale, she added.

The bones of the whale will be removed and the remainder of the carcass left to decompose on the remote beach.