A sad and shocking sight met early morning beach staff and visitors on Monday. The strong wind and waves of the previous night had rolled a deceased fin whale on to Duxbury Beach between the parking lot and the 1st Crossover. Duxbury Harbormaster staff were on scene with marine biologists from the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) arriving mid-morning.
At 52 ft long and about 29 tons, the stranding is a rare occurrence for this species and a whale of this size on Duxbury Beach. However, this sub-adult whale was only partly grown. The largest fin whales may reach 65-80 ft and almost 80 tons. This baleen whale is the second-largest mammal on Earth and is considered endangered. Like many whale species, the fin whale was overhunted in the last century and faces threats from habitat loss, climate change, and pollution.
As part of larger studies examining whale populations, staff and volunteers from NEAQ and IFAW took measurements and performed a necropsy (an autopsy of an animal). Scientists took numerous samples for further examination of the whale, including age, diet, and potential cause of death. In order to tackle the immense job of measuring and sampling such a massive creature, heavy machinery was brought in to maneuver the whale and eventually move it off the front beach for burial.
The process of studying and moving the whale was a huge effort on the part of Harbormaster staff, construction crews, and the Reservation, in addition to NEAQ and IFAW. We greatly appreciate the public’s patience when these tasks required closure of the front beach and back road. We are pleased to report that the whale has been successfully moved and the crossover and road are open as normal.
In the midst of this sad event it is rewarding to see the interest and passion in marine conservation shown by visitors and the media. Here are some of the many news stories covered on Duxbury Beach this week: