Why have so many dead whales washed ashore along the New Jersey, New York coasts in 2023?

ByAlexandra George WABC logo
Friday, September 1, 2023
Increase in whale deaths in Tri-State caused by climate change: DEP
The DEP has been monitoring an "unusual humpback whale mortality event" along the Atlantic coasts since 2016.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Whales have been mysteriously washing ashore in the Tri-State since the end of last year.

In 2023 alone, at least 13 humpback whales have been stranded in New York and New Jersey, according to NOAA.

But New York and New Jersey are not the only states to have an increase in whale carcasses on their beaches. The Department of Environmental Protection has been tracking whale deaths along the Atlantic coasts since January 2016.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) released a statement March 15 on what they are referring to as an "unusual humpback whale mortality event."

Even though the unusual humpback whale mortality event started seven years ago, it was not until January of 2023 that the NJDEP started receiving concerns about the development of offshore wind energy.

The statement reads, in part:

As of March 2023, no offshore wind-related construction activities have taken place in waters off the New Jersey coast, and DEP is aware of no credible evidence that offshore wind-related survey activities could cause whale mortality. While DEP has no reason to conclude that whale mortality is attributable to offshore wind-related activities, DEP will continue to monitor.

Instead, the DEP called attention to the increase in ocean temperatures due to "human-caused climate change caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels," and the danger it poses for marine mammals.

Specifically, food sources for whales like menhaden, are forced to adapt to the rising temperatures by moving landward to a more favorable location. Whales follow their food source, and the closer to land they get, the more likely they are to come into conflict with human activities (ie. be hit by a vessel).

Although the DEP has identified an increase in whale deaths along the Atlantic coasts since 2016, Eyewitness News has been tracking the whale deaths in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut since January 2023.

The latest whale to wash up on the East Coast was found Tuesday, August 29 in Loveladies on Long Beach Island. An adult female Pygmy Sperm measuring 10 feet 9 inches long and weighing over 800 pounds was stranded on the beach at Seaview Drive. Trained Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMSC) Staff as well as members of the Long Beach Township Beach Patrol assisted in making the animal as comfortable as possible, by keeping her upright and wet as she lay on the beach. The whale was eventually carried in a stretcher onto a truck to be moved off the beach. The stranding team rushed the whale to the MMSC's veterinarian. Upon examination, the whale was lethargic and unresponsive. According to the MMSC, when a cetacean (ie. dolphins, whales) is stranded, their own body weight causes crushing damage to their internal organs. The MMSC veterinarian decided to humanely euthanize the whale to prevent further suffering. The whale was then transported to the Animal Health Diagnostic Lab where a necropsy will take place.

This whale is just the latest in a series of dead whale sightings and strandings all along the east coast and within the Tri-State area.

August 25
A whale carcass washed up on Rockaway Beach in Queens. The whale was between 25 and 30 feet long. No other details were released about the whale or its cause of death.

August 14

A whale carcass was discovered on Atlantic Beach in Nassau County. Scientists suspect the bruising on the head and neck region of the whale indicate a vessel strike, but the whale's official cause of death has not been determined.

August 12

Lifeguards notice a dead whale floating off the coast of Long Branch and cleared all five nearby beaches. The juvenile whale washed ashore next to Imperial House Beach with significant injuries to its head suggesting a vessel strike.

August 11

A 30-foot-long humpback whale washed ashore at Smith Point County Park.

June 27

Remains of a 28-foot junior humpback whale washed up on East Atlantic Beach in Nassau County. The whale was severely decomposed and had no internal organs.

June 2

A dead humpback whale is seen floating in the Raritan Bay off the Jersey Coast.

June 1

A deceased humpback whale floated into Shinnecock Bay in Suffolk County. The 28-foot-long female whale was towed out of the bay and back into the ocean before it was secured to the beachfront. The whale was dragged ashore the following morning in preparation for a necropsy. Scientists later determined that the whale likely died of sharp blunt force trauma, consistent with a vessel strike.

May 19

A 24-foot-long humpback whale washed ashore just before sunrise at Robert Moses State Park on Fire Island.

May 6

The body of a decomposing Minke whale was found on the shore of Westhampton Beach on Long Island.

March 3

A whale carcass was found Thursday, March 3, at Seaside Park. Initially, the whale was seen floating about a half mile from Seaside Park and was identified as a humpback whale. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center and NOAA began monitoring the situation and planned their response once the whale came ashore. Propellor wounds were found on the whale.

March 2

A 30-feet-long female humpback whale washed up in Seaside Park, New Jersey, after its carcass was spotted floating in the water a day prior. Although the whale was fairly decomposed, teams determined the whale was in relatively good condition prior to her death. Some internal and external injuries, including evidence of propellor wounds, were identified. It is too soon to tell whether the propellor wounds were made before or after the whale's death. The necropsy team obtained samples from the whale's wound sites to send out for further testing. Full results from the necropsy will not be available for several weeks. Following the extensive exam, the whale was buried on the beach.

February 17

A dead whale was found on Rockaway Beach near 29th Street. The whale had external trauma, seemingly sliced by something like a propeller.

February 13

A 35-foot juvenile female whale washed up on the shore of Manasquan Beach in New Jersey. There was evidence the whale had been struck by a vessel, but it was unclear whether the whale was struck before or after it died.

January 30

A 14-ton, 35-feet-long, male humpback whale washed ashore on Lido Beach, Long Island. Eyewitness News was at the scene as the necropsy began. The whale, named 'Luna' had been tracked by researchers for more than 40 years. After the examination, the whale was buried at the beach. Marine biologists determined that the whale was struck by a ship, suffered fatal injuries at sea, and was dead for several days before it washed ashore.

January 12

A 32-foot-long humpback whale washed ashore in Brigantine, just north of Atlantic City. Marine officials said the whale suffered blunt trauma injuries to its head, flipper, and other parts of its body. They were able to determine that the whale had been feeding shortly before it had been struck.

January 7

A 30-foot humpback whale washed up on the shore of Atlantic City. This whale washed up a few blocks from where another dead whale had been found two weeks earlier. In response, a group called Clean Ocean Action sent a letter to President Biden asking him to take action and investigate the increase in whale deaths.

At least five other whales washed up on the shores of New York and New Jersey in the last months of 2022. Even more have washed up further south along the east coast.

In addition to all the aforementioned whales, three dolphins were found dead in Sandy Hook Bay on February 20. The dolphins died after being stranded in shallow waters.

By the time a dead whale washes ashore, it is often already severely decayed, so it can be hard for scientists to determine the exact cause of their death.

Additionally, because of their size, whale necropsies must be performed manually.

As for what is causing all these dead whales to wash ashore in the Tri-State, it is not entirely clear. A few of the dead whales documented this year did have visible signs of external trauma, but because their bodies decompose at sea, it can be hard to tell whether the trauma is the cause of death.

Some people believe the increase in dead whales comes from an increase in consumer purchasing and cargo that is shipped at sea. While others hypothesize that the construction of offshore wind turbines has had a deadly effect on whales, federal officials say that is not the case.

To report strandings of marine mammals or sea turtles, you can call NOAA's stranding hotline at 866-755-6622. If you spot the animal on a shore in New Jersey, you can call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center Hotline at 609-266-0538. To keep yourself and the animal safe, call for help immediately and maintain a 150-foot distance from the stranded animal.

All whales, porpoises and seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits touching, feeding or otherwise harming the animals.

This story was last updated on August 25, 2023.


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