Curtis Doughty walks around the dead 40-foot humpback whale after securing it to his trailer at Portland Yacht Services on June 6. The whale was found dead, wrapped in fishing gear. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The dead humpback whale found in Casco Bay last week likely drowned because of injuries from a fishing gear entanglement, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The whale, known as Chunk, was hauled from Casco Bay into Portland Harbor on June 6 with fishing gear wrapped around its tail. Scientists found Chunk with new injuries related to the most recent entanglement, including “congested lungs consistent with acute drowning,” according to NOAA Fisheries spokesperson Andrea Gomez.

Entanglements are a known cause of death by drowning in large marine mammals like whales.

“(Entanglements) can lead to drowning as trapped animals cannot reach the surface to breathe,” according to the International Whaling Commission.

Chunk was last seen alive caught in netting off Cape Elizabeth, NOAA said last week.

The whale had been previously tangled in rope in 2015 with injuries Gomez said had healed. Scientists also discovered that Chunk weighed 58,000 pounds and had a stomach full of fish when she died.


NOAA Fisheries has not yet released a final necropsy report that will determine a conclusive cause of death because of an ongoing investigation by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement. The necropsy has been completed, however, and the whale has since been buried.

Nine humpback whales have been found dead in state and federal waters off the coast of Maine since 2016, according to NOAA data on humpback whale mortalities.

Maine’s count of humpback whales found dead near its shores is far below counts in other coastal states like New York, where 45 dead humpback whales have been found in its waters since 2016.

But it is the second time in four months that Maine has been linked to the death of a whale.

In late January, a North Atlantic right whale was found dead on Martha’s Vineyard tangled in fishing gear. A month later, NOAA and the Maine Department of Marine Resources confirmed that the rope was from Maine’s lobster fishery. It’s the first time that Maine gear has been found on the carcass of a North Atlantic right whale. Officials have not confirmed that the gear caused the whale’s death, and NOAA hasn’t yet released its final necropsy report.

But entanglements in fishing gear pose a large threat of death or serious injury in all whale species, NOAA asserts.

Chunk’s death also comes amid growing concerns over the impact of the state’s fisheries on the health of whale populations that some fear could lead to drastic regulations imposed on the lobster industry.

NOAA has mandated new gear-marking rules, a reduction in the number of vertical lines in the waterthe insertion of weak points in rope and a seasonal closure of a nearly 1,000-square-mile area in the Gulf of Maine.

Lobstermen, who fear that they will also have to invest in ropeless gear in the coming years, have fought the changes.

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