Whale carcass on bow of cruise ship baffles authorities

Steve GormanReuters
A cruise liner has carried the carcass of a whale into a New York port, baffling authorities. (AP PHOTO)
Camera IconA cruise liner has carried the carcass of a whale into a New York port, baffling authorities. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AP

Marine conservationists and government scientists are seeking clues to the mystery of how a 13-metre whale carcass ended up on the bow of a cruise liner, where it was discovered as the ship approached New York City's Port of Brooklyn at the weekend.

A necropsy, the animal equivalent of an autopsy, identified the deceased marine mammal as a mature female sei whale, an endangered species typically found in deep waters far from land, the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society said on Wednesday.

One key question is whether the whale's death came before or after its contact with the vessel, according to the non-profit organisation, based in New York's Hampton Bays.

An online statement posted by the society, whose team conducted the necropsy on Tuesday, said the exam revealed evidence of tissue trauma along whale's right shoulder blade region, and a right flipper fracture. The creature's gastrointestinal tract was full of food, it said.

Most of the whale's organs were sampled, along with tissue and bone, for toxicology and pathology analysis, according to the society.

"The tissue and bone samples collected will help biologists determine if the vessel interaction occurred pre or post mortem," the group said in its statement.

It said the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's law enforcement office was also investigating the incident.

The whale's corpse was carried into port on Saturday.

The conservation society said the whale was then towed to shore at Sandy Hook in New Jersey to conduct the necropsy.

Sei whales, members of the baleen branch of cetaceans that filter-feed on plankton and krill, take their name from the Norwegian word for pollock, a fish they often run with at sea. They are known as exceptionally fast swimmers, capable of reaching speeds of more than 55km/h, according to the administration.

They dwell mostly in subtropical, temperate and subpolar seas around the world, primarily the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. In summer, they are commonly found in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank and Stellwagen Bank in the western North Atlantic.

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