LUBEC — The carcass of a young humpback whale stranded in Boot Cove, southwest of Quoddy Narrows, was discovered this week.
As yet, scientists don’t know how, when or where the whale died.
On Friday, Rosemary Seton of Allied Whale at College of the Atlantic said the whale was a young female, probably little more than a year old. The carcass showed no evident signs of injury from either entanglement with fishing gear or a vessel strike, Seton said, but the visual evidence is not conclusive.
“We did not see anything reflecting a ship strike or entanglement,” Seton said, “but it’s too early to say. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It just means we couldn’t see it.”
The whale was first spotted floating in Canadian waters near The Wolves, a group of small islands between Black’s Harbour, N.S., and Grand Manan Island, sometime around April 12, Marine Patrol Sgt. Russell Wright said Friday morning. On Tuesday, April 17, a landowner spotted the carcass floating off the cobble beach in Boot Cove, a nook in the Bold Coast southwest of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Boot Head preserve outside Lubec.
The landowner reported the find to Gayle Kraus, a professor of marine ecology at the University of Maine at Machias. She called Seton and Allied Whale.
Last Wednesday, a team of a dozen or more researchers and students and Marine Patrol officers assembled on the shore and tried to recover the dead animal. It was too far from the beach to reach from land.
Wright and Marine Patrol Officers Brian Brodie and Keith York launched a canoe from the shore, secured a line to the whale’s flipper and then dragged the carcass into shallow water, where Seton and her colleagues collected skin and tissue samples.
“It was only 50 feet offshore, in behind a ledge,” that provided shelter from the rough seas, Wright said describing the situation. “It was perfect conditions. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it.”
Wright used the canoe because the sea conditions were too dangerous for the Marine Patrol’s rigid inflatable boat.
“It was just too rough. I wouldn’t do it,” Wright said.
On Thursday, the Department of Marine Resources closed Boot Cove to shellfish harvesting because of the risk of bacterial contamination from the decomposing whale carcass. The good news is that the cove is not a significant area for commercial shellfish harvesting.
According to Seton, it is “a little early” in the year to find young humpback whales in the Bay of Fundy. It was possible, she said, that the whale spent the winter here rather than migrating to its southern spawning grounds.
Because the whale carcass remained stranded in the water at low tide rather than on the beach, it was impossible to measure it accurately. Wright estimated the whale was between 28 and 30 feet long, Seton thought it might be slightly shorter. A mature female humpback can reach lengths of 45 to 50 feet, bigger than males of the species, and weigh as much as 40 tons.
Seton said Allied Whale researchers would like to do a necropsy on the Boot Cove whale and try to find its cause of death, but neither may be possible.
With the carcass awash rather than on the beach, “it would be hard to do a necropsy where it is,” Seton said, adding “you can do a full necropsy and not know” why the whale died.