NOAA, city on whale carcass: Let nature take its course

Sean Horgan, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.
·2 min read

Apr. 29—It appears the residents around Folly Cove are going to have to get used to having the dead minke whale carcass as a neighbor — at least until it decomposes naturally or washes back out to sea.

The carcass of the medium-sized whale washed onto the beach, and then the rocks, of the cove on the winds and surf of the April 16 storm that lashed Ipswich Bay and the rest of Cape Ann.

On Wednesday, 12 days after the whale came ground, NOAA Fisheries, on its Facebook page, laid the responsibility for the whale at the feet of the city of Gloucester and recommended it "leave the carcass in place to naturally decompose" rather than attempt a manual removal.

"For this particular case, due to the condition of the carcass and the rocky nature of Folly Cove, it would be difficult for the city to safely bring in heavy equipment to haul the carcass away to a landfill or bury the carcass on site," NOAA Fisheries posted.

City Shellfish Warden Peter Seminara said the city already was pursuing a disposal strategy that depends on nature taking its course with the whale carcass.

"Realistically, this is standard removal procedure," Seminara said Thursday. "Particularly in this case, given the size of the whale and its advanced stage of decomposition when it came to shore."

If it were a smaller marine mammal, such as a seal, the city probably would just dispose it in the landfill, Seminara said.

"That's just not realistic in this case," he said.

NOAA Fisheries, in its post, said towing stranded whale carcasses out to sea is a possible disposal method, "but the least preferred."

It said at-sea disposal only can be utilized under certain conditions and requires consultation with NOAA Fisheries, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard "to prevent a hazard to navigation and to avoid the whale washing back onto shore or a neighboring beach."

The agency said the condition of the Folly Cove minke carcass — which responders said appeared to have been dead for quite some time when it came ashore — "would likely result in the whale breaking apart as it is pulled off the beach, spreading the problem rather than solving it."

Leaving the carcass to let nature take its course, it said, is the preferred alternative.

"Natural decomposition has benefits to the environment by providing a food source and nutrients to scavengers and decomposers within the coastal ecosystem."

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT