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Endangered whale last seen 30 years ago found alive, but discovery ends in ‘heartbreak’

A humpback whale stranded off the coast of a remote North Atlantic island died earlier this month after disappearing for around three decades.

The enormous creature was still alive when it washed up in Sable Island National Park Reserve, a strip of sand covering just 12 square miles of land in the Atlantic Ocean, about 110 miles to the southeast of the easternmost tip of mainland Nova Scotia in Canada. The incident was reported on November 2, according to the Marine Animal Response Society, a Nova Scotia-based charity that focuses on marine animal conservation.

“Given the size of the humpback whale and its location on the south side in dangerous surf conditions, there was little that could be done to help this whale,” the Marine Animal Response Society wrote in a post shared on Facebook on Monday, which included several images of the whale.

The U.S. National Park Service says adult male humpback whales, like the one on Sable Island, can measure between 45 and 56 feet in length. Typically, animals weigh at least 35 tons, or 70,000 pounds.

“Some incidents involving live animals are really difficult to handle due to safety concerns, location, logistics and the size of the animal. When all of these elements collide, response can be almost impossible , much to the chagrin of everyone involved,” the charity said. said, adding that veterinary partners from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative and the Atlantic Veterinary College could not travel to the remote beach to help or “humanely euthanize” the animal, because the area is very isolated.

Sable Island is managed by the Canadian government agency Parks Canada, which, like the United States National Park Service, is responsible for the country’s national parks, conservation areas, historic sites and other protected lands. . Visiting the island known for its wild horses and sea lion colonies is possible during certain months of the year, although visitors must obtain permission from Parks Canada.

According to the agency’s website, Sable Island is accessible by air or sea, and potential visitors can reserve a seat or charter a trip with an approved Parks Canada operator, or plan a trip on a private ship in January and February and from June to October. . The site notes that “delays and cancellations are common due to weather.”

The stranded humpback whale died several days after washing ashore, but Parks Canada officials were able to take a photo of the whale’s underside while it was still alive, allowing researchers to match the he animal stranded a humpback whale originally seen decades earlier. . Humpback whales can be identified by distinctive markings on the underside of their tails, called flukes, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

Researchers from the Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts and Maine’s Allied Whale at the College of the Atlantic examined the photograph of the humpback whale’s tail and confirmed that the whale was first spotted in 1982 on Silver Bank, off the coast of the Dominican Republic, meaning she was at least 43 years away. years. The whale was last seen in the early 1990s, and how and where it spent its life over the following decades remains a mystery.

“We can only imagine what it did during that time,” the Center for Coastal Studies wrote in another social media post about the humpback whale. The whale’s cause of death is also unknown, according to the Marine Animal Society, as circumstances on Sable Island prevented authorities from conducting a necropsy. But based on observations, there were no external signs of injury or trauma to the whale.

“Large whale strandings are difficult and dangerous, and it is not always possible to identify the individual or determine why it died,” the Center for Coastal Studies said. “Although they were unable to determine the cause of this stranding, they were able to collect and share images essential for long-term studies of North Atlantic populations.”

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