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Researchers are closer to understanding what killed the north Atlantic right whale on Martha's Vineyard shore

Eve Zuckoff
The effort to move the whale, in order to perform a necropsy and eventually bury it, got under way on Wednesday. The whale was estimated to weigh 11 tons.

UPDATED February 2, 2023 11:50 am:

Researchers are one step closer to understanding what killed the north Atlantic right whale that washed up on a Martha’s Vineyard beach on Sunday.

A team is expected to deliver a preliminary report with more information about how young female died later today.

On Thursday, two dozen researchers, traveling from as far away as Maine and Virginia, conducted a postmortem exam in a remote, forested spot on Aquinnah Wampanoag trust land.

Sarah Sharp, a veterinarian from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said she was proud of the team.

“We definitely answered some questions we had coming into this,” she said. “It has been a long week working each day to get closer to understanding why the animal died.” 

The whale, a 2-to-3-year-old female was buried on Aquinnah Wampanoag Trust land after the post-mortem exam.

The tribe plans to use its bones for educational and cultural purposes in the future.

February 1, 2024 at 3:41 PM

A critically endangered right whale washed up dead on the beach at Cow Bay in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard.

The whale, a young female, was found on Sunday night. Since then, crews from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and other organizations have been working to secure the whale and perform an exam to identify the cause of death.

Since 2017, at least 55 North Atlantic right whales have been killed or seriously injured by boat strikes and entanglement in rope and fishing gear. This marks the first time a right whale has been found dead in Massachusetts since 2018.

CAI’s Eve Zuckoff was on the scene in Edgartown and took the following photos of the effort to bring the whale’s body to land for a necropsy.

Please note some images are graphic.

To learn more, listen to the audio button at the top of this page, as Eve Zuckoff speaks with CAI's Steve Junker for the first segment of the Friday News Roundup. She discusses the latest developments in researchers efforts to understand the death of the whale.

You can also listen to an interview from earlier in the week between Eve and CAI Morning Edition host Patrick Flanary here.

And to see video of the whale at Cow's Bay, and the process of moving it for eventual necropsy, visit our Instagram page here.

Eve Zuckoff
On Wednesday morning the whale carcass lay just above the tide line. Researchers, federal regulators, and tribal officials gathered to move it off the beach. The plan was to relocate the body to a remote area where it could be given a necropsy and then buried. To do this, the team decided to float the body and tow it by boat.
Eve Zuckoff
Eve Zuckoff
The whale's tail showed evidence of an entanglement. Researchers cautioned that it was premature to know if that was the cause of death.
Eve Zuckoff
Eve Zuckoff
A heavy tow rope needed to be passed beneath the whale's tail. Researchers dig a space beneath the tail to pass the rope through.
Eve Zuckoff
The team secures the tow rope to the whale carcass by passing it around the tail.
Eve Zuckoff
IFAW researchers marked a
Eve Zuckoff
With the tow rope run out to a tug boat, the carcass is gradually pulled tail-first toward the water.
Eve Zuckoff
The tugboat maneuvers offshore. By late in the afternoon, the whale was successfully floated and on its way to its necropsy destination.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.
Liz Lerner is a digital producer and announcer. Before CAI she worked in multimedia production and film and spent a decade working in community television where she produced and hosted local news-magazine programming.