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Dead whale sits frozen at N.J. state park beach after Christmas storm

Barnegat Bay-Oyster Creek
Posted at 2:31 PM, Dec 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-28 14:31:13-05

BARNEGAT LIGHTHOUSE STATE PARK, N.J. — A dead whale is sitting on a New Jersey state park beach after a Christmas storm blew through the northeast.

The humpback whale is near Barnegat Lighthouse State Park in Ocean County. It is unclear at this time how the roughly 20-foot-long whale died, according to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, a marine animal focused organization that responded to the whale Saturday. They said it could have been hit by a boat or something else during the storm, or died from contracting a disease.

In addition to coming ashore on a holiday weekend, when few state employees are working, the below-freezing temperatures are also delaying the whale’s removal.

“The whale’s too frozen,” Bob Schoelkopf, the director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center said. “We can’t even cut into the blubber, it’s too thick and frozen.”

Schoelkopf believes the dead whale was washed ashore on Christmas Eve, then taken back out to sea on Christmas as a large storm came through, and then came back ashore Saturday.

Anyone visiting the area should stay clear, Schoelkopf said, because of the possibility for diseases to be in the carcass.

Whale watching boats had spotted the whale alive earlier this year in Sandy Hook bay, where it had been photographed feeding, Schoelkopf said.

In September, a different humpback whale was found dead off the Jersey Shore after being entangled. Another dead humpback whale was found floating off Cape May in November.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an “unusual mortality event” for humpback whales in 2017, after high numbers of whales were found dead from Maine to North Carolina. NOAA said the issue began in 2016 and continues to persist; the cause is still under investigation.