BAR HARBOR, Maine — Spinnaker, a humpback whale who cheated death a few times by becoming entangled in and then freed from ropes floating in the ocean, has run out of luck.
The body of the 40-foot-long female whale washed up Thursday on the shore of Mount Desert Island, a researcher with Allied Whale said Friday.
Spinnaker was 11 years old.
Rosemary Seton, research associate and marine mammal stranding coordinator for Allied Whales, which is affiliated with College of the Atlantic, confirmed Friday that the dead whale is Spinnaker. She said she and other Allied Whale staffers were contacted Thursday about the whale by officials at Acadia National Park and then went to Great Head in the park, where the whale was floating against the rocky shore, to see if they could identify the animal.
She said they were able to photograph the tip of the whale’s right ventral fluke and, by comparing it to other photos of Spinnaker, confirmed that it is the same whale.
Allied Whale maintains the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog, a photographic database created by College of the Atlantic in 1977 that researchers use to keep track of and assess the health of both individual whales and the species’ overall population in the North Atlantic. Humpback whales are listed as endangered under federal law and, like all whale species, are legally protected in order to try to get their numbers to rebound.
Seton said Spinnaker, who was born in 2004, has been freed by trained rescuers from floating ropes more than once over the past 11 years.
“Yes, it has quite the entanglement history,” Seton said in an email. “We do not know why the whale died. We have not been able to access it in the spot it is in [against the steep cliff].”
She added that researchers are trying to work out logistics for getting better access to the floating carcass and for perhaps performing a necropsy to determine the cause of death.
Spinnaker was disentangled last September off Mount Desert Rock and again just last month near Cashes Ledge, about 90 miles northeast of Cape Cod in the Gulf of Maine. According to the Provincetown, Massachusetts-based Center for Coastal Studies, Spinnaker also had been freed from an entanglement near Mount Desert Rock in 2006.
In a prepared statement released last month, the International Whaling Commission indicated that the number of times Spinnaker has been entangled “highlights the risk posed to whales by fishing gear and marine debris in the habitats they traditionally return to each year.”