CRANBERRY ISLES, Maine — The carcass of a humpback whale calf that was spotted floating off Mount Desert Island has been recovered and is expected to be examined this week.
Allied Whale, a marine mammal research group affiliated with College of the Atlantic, was contacted late last week about the floating whale, according to Rosemary Seton, a researcher with the group. She said the group went out Friday to look for it and found the whale, which is approximately 18 feet long. The group was not properly equipped to tow the carcass, she said, so members attached a floating mooring ball to it so it would be easy to find over the weekend, when they would have a larger boat at their disposal.
Before Allied Whale researchers resumed their search on Saturday, they got a call that the animal had washed up on the south shore of Little Cranberry Island. Researchers went out Sunday with COA’s boat Osprey and towed the whale back to the Bar Harbor college. Seton said Monday that the animal is tied up to a mooring off the school’s dock.
Seton said the whale is believed to have been born just this past winter in the Caribbean Sea.
Officials do not know why the animal died.
“We haven’t had a chance to get a good look at it,” she said. “We haven’t been able to determine anything yet.”
Seton said Allied Whale was working on logistics on Monday about where researchers might be able to take the whale for a necropsy. By dissecting and examining the animal, they may be able to determine what killed the calf.
For the past 35 years, Allied Whale has maintained a photo catalog of humpback whales in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, but this animal was born so recently that it does not have a photo of it. Seton said the group has contacted whale watch boats and other research groups who may have photographed the whale in recent months to try to determine which female whale gave birth to the calf.
Seton said the latest comprehensive estimate of the humpback whale population, which was done a few years ago, indicates there are likely 12,000 such whales in the North Atlantic. That estimate indicates that the whale population is healthy and “doing very well,” she said, but the animals still are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
By some estimates, Seton said, there were as many as 200,000 humpback whales worldwide before the whaling industry decimated the population, mainly in the 19th and 20th centuries. The animals now are protected by federal law and international treaties.
“Ninety percent were taken” by whalers, Seton said of humpbacks.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.