A dead minke whale found floating off the coast of Phippsburg was collected and tested by Marine Mammals Maine late last week, but the organization doesn’t yet know the whale’s cause of death.

The 29-foot, 10,000-pound adult female whale was retrieved by Marine Mammals Maine and the Maine Department of Marine Resources from a private beach in Georgetown, the nonprofit wrote in a Facebook post last Friday. After the organization documented and took samples from the whale to study, it was hauled the whale to a state-approved marine mammal compost facility.

“Minkes are one of the three whale species included in the large whale Unusual Mortality Event currently active along the eastern seaboard,” Marine Mammals of Maine wrote in a Facebook post last Friday. “With high numbers of mortalities for this species, each one is vital to document.”

Marine Mammals of Maine is a Bath-based nonprofit dedicated to marine mammal and sea turtle response, rescue, care, research and education. The organization responds to roughly 300 calls of stranded marine animals each year, about 40% of which are deceased seals, whales, dolphins, porpoises and sea turtles.

The minke whale was the nonprofit’s first of three large whale “strandings,” or when whales get beached on land, that week, according to its Facebook post. Marine Mammals of Maine did not return requests for comment Monday regarding the other two strandings.

Minke whales in particular have experienced an elevated number of mortalities along the Atlantic coast from Maine to South Carolina in recent years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The administration deemed it an “Unusual Mortality Event” in 2018, thought to be caused mostly by human interactions, like when whales get caught in fishing equipment, or infectious diseases, according to data from NOAA.

Since 2017, NOAA has documented 112 minke whale strandings, according to the administration’s website. Of those, Maine has seen 20 minke whale strandings according to NOAA, the second-highest in the northeast behind Massachusetts, which has seen 40. So far this year, Maine has seen two minke whale strandings.

“We have seen several minke whale deaths in recent weeks in locations from Maine to Long Island, but this is the busiest time of year for these strandings,” NOAA Spokesperson Allison Ferreira wrote in a statement to The Times Record Monday. “Given the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event, data collection for these animals is very important. Our stranding partners, including Marine Mammals of Maine, work hard to collect information from each case.”

According to NOAA, minke whales are considered one of the most abundant whales in the world, and their population status is stable. However, commercial whaling may have reduced minke whale populations by as much as half in the northeastern North Atlantic, the administration estimates.

While minke whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the species is not listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

During spring, summer and fall minke whales are most often around the sloping sides of the banks and ledges of the Gulf of Maine, but can also be spotted closer to shore, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Their diet consists mainly of small schooling fish like sand lance, herring, young mackerel and krill.

Ferreira said NOAA needs the public’s help to record whale data and asked people to report sightings of injured or stranded whales, dead or alive, to the stranding hotline, but the public should not move or disturb the whales so accurate information can be gathered.

Members of the public can make a report by calling the Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at (866) 755-6622.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.