One Whale of a Problem in Sea Isle, Avalon

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The humpback whale carcass is stuck in sediment in between Sea Isle City and Avalon in Townsends Inlet. (Photos courtesy of Marine Mammal Stranding Center)

By MADDY VITALE

A dead and decaying 30-foot, two-ton humpback whale stuck in the mud between Sea Isle City and Avalon in Townsends Inlet isn’t moving anywhere anytime soon, but eventually the removal of the carcass will be someone or some city’s rather large problem.

A tracking device placed on the carcass was removed since the whale is not able to be pulled from the sediment.

“The tracker is not necessary because the animal stopped floating. It is on a sandbar. It is two-plus tons of dead weight,” explained Bob Schoelkopf, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine. “The only way it will likely move is with a full moon, which won’t happen again until the end of the month.”

He emphasized that if a storm blows through, the carcass will drift closer to the beach area rather than out to sea as it “lightens its load with decay.”

Shark bites are proof that an apex predator has been feeding on it. However, no one has called the Marine Mammal Stranding Center to say they have witnessed that, Schoelkopf said.

Each year, about 12 dead whales either wash ashore or are discovered in the region’s waters.

Tracking devices prove helpful in locating the mammals. However, Schoelkopf said he does not anticipate the dead humpback whale, an endangered species, will move anytime soon.

The tracker, owned by the federal government, costs about $10,000 and looks a bit like a popcorn machine, Schoelkopf and other experts at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center said.

There was some concern that a kayaker or fisherman might take the tracker, hence a reason for its removal.

It was placed on the whale by the U.S. Coast Guard shortly after the carcass was reported Thursday floating in Townsends Inlet, a channel separating Sea Isle and Avalon. Not much has changed since its discovery.

“One of our volunteers was surf fishing and called us right up,” Schoelkopf said. “Unfortunately, it parked itself in the shallows of the inlet. We could have brought it in earlier when the waters were navigable, but they aren’t now.”

The whale carcass is in shallow waters in Townsends Inlet near the bridge.

On Thursday, members of the U.S. Coast Guard and Marine Mammal Stranding Center went out to view the whale.

Schoelkopf said the team at the stranding center couldn’t move the carcass prior to it becoming stuck in the sediment because they needed agreement from either Sea Isle or Avalon to be able to bury it on the beach, where they would also do a necropsy.

At this juncture, he said, there would be little learned about how the animal died due to decomposition.

He added that if it does come ashore, it would be the responsibility of the town to pay for the costs of burying it.

“If it moves and goes on someone’s beach, that would be in the hands of the (town),” Schoelkopf noted.

He added that a necropsy at this time would not likely yield pertinent information on how the animal died.

However, the condition of the bones could offer some insight into if it may have been struck by a boat.

Marine experts are investigating a disease that might be affecting whales. In September, a humpback whale was found dead in the water near Brigantine after becoming entangled in fishing gear.

Humpback whales are in the area’s waters year-round. 

To donate to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center visit www.mmsc.org.

The remains of the 30-foot, two-ton whale are expected to eventually wash up on the beach.