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Dumpster Debacle Distracts From Serious Spike in Whale Deaths

Animals

This week, a video of a failed attempt to put a dead, 4,000-pound whale into a tiny dumpster made the rounds on the internet, garnering chuckles and comparisons to Peter Griffin forklifting and impaling a beached sperm whale on Family Guy.

The juvenile minke whale washed up on Jenness Beach in Rye, New Hampshire on Monday morning, NBC 10 Boston reported. It was found with entanglement wounds, so researchers with the Seacoast Science Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wanted to move the carcass from the beach to a lab for a necropsy to study its death.


But efforts to transport the whale took an unfortunate turn. The state-provided dumpster was too small to contain and transport the 16-foot whale, as seen in a Twitter video posted by Jason Schreiber, a reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

The clip shows a front end loader lowering the animal into the dumpster before it flops off the side and lands on the ground.

Schreiber reported for the New Hampshire Union Leader that the whale was covered, barricaded for protection and spent Monday night in the parking lot where it was dropped. The next morning, a larger dumpster arrived. A crew successfully transported the carcass to marine biologists for a postmortem examination on Wednesday.

Ashley Stokes, manager of the Seacoast Science Center's Marine Mammal Rescue Team, explained to the publication that a dumpster is ideal for transport because it keeps the whale contained and its bodily fluids from leaking. She added the whale's remains will be composted.

Although the whale's transportation is a debacle, its death is no laughing matter. Katie Pugliares-Bonner, a senior biologist and necropsy specialist at the New England Aquarium, told LiveScience that researchers have noticed an usual spike in large whale deaths in the Atlantic, especially for minke, humpback and the North Atlantic right whale.

Entanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes, underwater sounds and anthropogenic noise are an increasing concern for baleen whales such as minke, according to NOAA.

Earlier this year, NOAA declared an "Unusual Mortality Event"—a significant die-off—for minke whales from in the North Atlantic from Maine to South Carolina. This event began in January 2017 and strandings remain high, NOAA reported. Minke whales are not listed as threatened or endangered, but they are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

So when a dead whale washes ashore, biologists use it as an opportunity to study how it died, LiveScience wrote. A necropsy can reveal if the animals were entangled or died of an infectious disease, Pugliares-Bonner explained to the publication. This information can then help inform conservation and wildlife management efforts.

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