BAR HARBOR — One of the largest animals on the planet turned up dead this week, its body found floating off Acadia National Park. What killed it is unknown.

The gigantic sperm whale, which weighs about 50 tons, was towed to a dock near the College of Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

Researchers with Allied Whale Research — the college’s marine mammal research program — said they have contacted the state Department of Marine Resources about finding a location where a necropsy could be performed.

Their goal will be to preserve the animal’s skeleton and put it on display at the college’s whale museum.

“Offshore, they are far more numerous. They are a deep-water animal that feeds on squid,” said Rosemary Seton, stranding coordinator for Allied Whale Research. “The food source is what drives these animals.”

Seton said a local fisherman discovered the whale floating Tuesday about a mile from the shore of Schoodic Point.

Although Schoodic Point is part of Acadia National Park, it is not located on Mount Desert Island, where the bulk of the park property is situated. Schoodic Point is located on the tip of a peninsula that is home to Winter Harbor — east of Bar Harbor across Frenchman Bay.

Seton said it is rare for sperm whales to be found so close to the Maine coast.

Seton said the college sent a large research vessel equipped with a crane to retrieve the whale. Its tail was placed on the vessel’s stern deck, which allowed the ship to tow it to shore Tuesday night.

The whale’s carcass is currently secured at a dock between the college and Bar Island in Bar Harbor.

Seton said the whale, which is a male, is about 50 feet long. A mature sperm whale can reach 67 feet long and can weigh up to 63 tons.

Seton said the whale died two weeks ago, putting its body in an advanced state of decomposition.

In a statement issued Wednesday by the college, researchers said the dead whale is believed to be 20 to 30 years old. Male sperm whales do not usually breed until they are 25 years old. Sperm whales can live 70 years or longer.

The whale does not appear to have suffered any lacerations or significant wounds, leaving the college with few clues to what caused its death.

Seton, who hopes to examine the contents of the whale’s stomach to determine what it had been eating when it died, say researchers may never know the exact cause.

Seton said the College of the Atlantic has asked the Maine Department of Marine Resources for permission to move the whale to a beach or inlet where it can be dissected.

State regulators will not allow the whale to be cut apart on a shore where shellfishing takes place.

The whale’s soft tissue will be composted but its skeleton will be preserved and re-assembled in the college’s whale museum, which is in the process of looking for a new home, Seton said.

The sperm whale has the largest brain of any animal on the planet. Its head alone makes up about one-third of its length. It is the largest living toothed animal.

Sperm whales have been known to dive as deep as 9,800 feet, making it the deepest diving mammal in the world.

Its diet consists primarily of giant squid and colossal squid.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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