A humpback whale that had been missing for 30 years washed ashore and died on Sable Island, a remote strip of land in the Northern Atlantic. The incident was reported on November 2 by the Marine Animal Response Society, a marine animal conservation organization based in Nova Scotia. The humpback, which was still alive when it beached, was found on the south side of the island, in dangerous surf conditions. Due to its size and location, there was little that could be done to help the whale.
According to the U.S. National Park Service, adult male humpbacks can measure between 45 and 56 feet in length and weigh at least 35 tons. The Marine Animal Response Society stated that responding to live animal incidents can be difficult due to safety concerns, location, logistics, and the size of the animal. Despite efforts from veterinary partners, they were unable to reach the remote beach to assist or humanely euthanize the whale.
Sable Island, managed by Parks Canada, is known for its wild horses and colonies of sea lions. Visiting the island is possible during specific months, but permission from Parks Canada is required. Access can be obtained by air or sea through licensed operators, although delays and cancellations are common due to weather conditions.
Officials with Parks Canada were able to photograph the underside of the whale’s tail while it was still alive. This photograph allowed researchers to match the beached whale to a humpback that was first seen in 1982 off the coast of the Dominican Republic. The humpback, estimated to be at least 43 years old, was last seen in the early 1990s, and its activities and whereabouts over the past few decades remain a mystery.
The cause of the whale’s death is unknown, as circumstances on Sable Island prevented officials from performing a necropsy. However, there were no visible signs of injury or trauma. Large whale strandings are challenging and dangerous, making it difficult to determine the cause of death. Despite this, the images collected are crucial for long-term population studies in the North Atlantic, according to the Center for Coastal Studies.