Minke whale in Saco Bay

A dead minke whale was hauled from Saco Bay on Tuesday at Pine Point’s public boat landing in Scarborough and trucked to Gorham for further study. Photo by Sean Campbell

A dead minke whale was pulled from Saco Bay on Tuesday as part of a three-day recovery effort led by Marine Mammals of Maine.

The Maine Marine Patrol and Scarborough officials assisted in the search and removal of the 20-foot-long carcass weighing about 2 tons.

It was hauled from the water at Pine Point’s public boat launch in Scarborough on Tuesday afternoon and trucked to Gorham for further study to determine a cause of death.

Tissue samples were taken Tuesday and a full necropsy is scheduled Wednesday, but lab results are expected to be delayed significantly because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It could take months before we get all the information put together,” said Lynda Doughty, executive director of Marine Mammals of Maine, a nonprofit rescue, response and education organization dedicated to marine mammals and sea turtles.

The Bath-based agency received reports last weekend of a whale carcass floating near Stratton Island, about 3 miles offshore from the Old Orchard Beach pier and south of Prouts Neck in Scarborough.

On Sunday, Scarborough’s harbor master took Doughty out onto Saco Bay, where they found the whale beached on Bluff Island, next to Stratton Island.

Doughty determined it was a male North Atlantic minke whale. It appeared to have been dead for three or four days, though recent hot weather and warm water temperatures could have accelerated decomposition, she said.

It also appeared to be a young adult that’s several years old, Doughty said, because it’s larger than a typical juvenile but not quite as long as a fully grown minke, which can measure over 30 feet long, weigh as much as 10 tons and live 30 to 50 years.

Armed with some basic information, Doughty began planning how to bring the carcass to shore and study it further, which required coordinating a variety of agencies and other logistics.

The retrieval effort started at 10 a.m. Tuesday, when Doughty boarded a Maine Marine Patrol boat stationed on the Saco River. More recent sightings indicated the whale was floating free again and had drifted a bit south.

Doughty and the marine patrol crew found the carcass floating near Eagle Island, off Ferry Beach in Saco, just north of the Saco River.

Doughty took initial blubber and tissue samples and worked with others to wrap heavy rope around the carcass and tow it to Pine Point, arriving around 1 p.m.

With help from the Scarborough harbor master and public works employees, the whale was loaded onto a trailer and trucked to Benson Farm Earth Products, a company in Gorham that makes organic garden compost from lobster shells and cow manure.

The company is licensed by the state to compost marine creatures retrieved by Marine Mammals of Maine, Doughty said. Whales, seals, dophins, porpoises and sea turtles are composted separately from Benson’s commercial operation, she said.

A team of sea mammal experts and volunteers is scheduled to be at Benson’s tomorrow to conduct a full necropsy to determine a cause of death, Doughty said.

Identifying an exact cause could be difficult if not impossible because the whale has been dead for about a week, which means internal organs and other body parts might be too degraded for relevant study, she said.

In addition, labs that typically process samples for Doughty have only recently reopened in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown, so it could take months to get test results, she said.

There were no obvious signs of disease or injury by a passing boat or other human activity, Doughty said.

Correction: This story was updated at 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 to correct the name of Bluff Island.


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