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How did 4 whales get beached along the East Coast in the same week?

Two young humpback whales were beached in Virginia, a minke whale washed ashore in North Carolina and a sperm whale was stranded in Florida.
How did 4 whales get beached along the East Coast in the same week?
Posted at 4:27 PM, Mar 12, 2024

Four whales were beached along the coasts of three different states in a week, leaving communities along the East Coast full of questions and concern. 

The first two whales were spotted on March 3 and March 4 in the Atlantic Ocean, before washing ashore along different parts of Virginia Beach, Virginia. 

Experts with the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center said both whales were young humpback males. Necropsies are still underway to determine how the whales died, but both had healed scars from past entanglements, officials said. 

Entanglements happen when marine animals get caught in objects like fishing gear, rope and trash, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not long after the beached humpback whales were spotted in Virginia, just down the shoreline in North Carolina’s Outer Banks a dead minke whale washed up in Corolla. 

A spokesperson for NOAA told Scripps News Norfolk that plans to perform a necropsy on the minke whale were interrupted since it apparently washed back out to sea before a response team could get to it. 

It’s still too soon to know if the three whale deaths along the close-knit coasts of Virginia and North Carolina are related.

Further south, a sperm whale beached off the coast of Venice, Florida a week after the whale discoveries in Virginia. It died shortly after, despite attempts to rescue it.

SEE MORE: Sperm whale spotted beached on sandbar off Florida coastline has died

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission said the whale was a 44-foot-long male and biologists collected samples to attempt to determine its cause of death. The results could take weeks. 

Gretchen Lovewell with Mote Marine Laboratory, part of the team that was tasked with trying to rescue the whale, told Scripps News Tampa Bay these animals are usually found far out at sea in deep waters.

“We get about two sperm whale strandings in the entire Gulf of Mexico every year. I’ve been at Mote for 15 years, and we haven’t had one. So, it is a very unusual thing. I can understand why people are curious about it,” said Lovewell.

Around this same time last year, there were an alarming amount of whale deaths, totaling 23, along the East Coast from December 2022 through February 2023. A dozen of those were in New Jersey and New York, and were identified as humpback whales. 

NOAA said overall there has been an elevated level of humpback whale mortalities since January 2016 along the Atlantic coast from Maine through Florida. Of the successful necropsies performed, 40% of the whales had evidence of human interaction such as a ship strike or entanglement. 

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