Researchers are investigating what caused two humpback whales to beach and die on Cape Cod Wednesday.
The first of the whales was reported stranded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service on Monomoy Island about 2 p.m. Monday, said Brian Sharp, rescue manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The whale, a juvenile male, was still alive when the wildlife service reported it to the IFAW, but an IFAW team was delayed reaching the animal because of inclement weather. By the time the team arrived, the whale had died, Sharp said.
Researchers were only able to collect tissue samples and take basic measurements. The carcass was right at the edge of the water in heavy surf, which “limited our ability to safely conduct a full necropsy,” he said.
As the team was responding to the first whale, it was alerted to a second juvenile male whale that had beached 2 miles away on Chatham’s South Beach, Sharp said.
Initial reports said the whale was dead. It turned out it was alive when the IFAW reached it, but in extremely poor condition, Sharp said.
“It was thin, had peeling skin from sun exposure, significant scavenger damage from gulls, and was partially buried in the sand,” the IFAW said in a statement.
A veterinarian assessed the animal before deciding that the best course of action was to euthanize it, the statement said.
Researchers were able to conduct a full necropsy on this animal and discovered “no recent signs of entanglement, vessel strike, or other major wounds,” researchers wrote.
They did find a large amount of the parasite crassicauda in the whale’s system, which could cause kidney failure, Sharp said.
These two latest strandings make five humpback whales that have beached in Massachusetts since January 2016. Another humpback washed up dead last week in Jamestown, R.I.
The federal government launched an investigation in April to try to discover what has been causing the high rate of stranding among humpback whales. Since the beginning of 2016, 46 whales have washed up along the East Coast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA has declared this string of deaths a “unusual mortality event.”
Researchers have performed necropsies on 20 of the 46 whales. About half of them showed signs of having been hit by a ship, NOAA said.
It’s still not known what has led to the increase in strandings, but NOAA has said that “humpback whales will continue to be closely monitored.”
Andrew Grant can be reached at [email protected]