The carcass of a dead humpback whale washed ashore at a New Jersey state park on Christmas after a storm, authorities said.
The whale, thought to be as big as 20 feet, was first spotted on the beach at Barnegat Light two days ago, drawing onlookers Christmas Day and again Saturday.
The Brigantine-based Marine Mammal Stranding Center said it's unclear how the animal died. Director Bob Schoelkopf told NJ Advance Media that it's possible the whale died after being hit by a ship or after contracting a disease.
Schoelkopf said it was unlikely any work related to the whale would be done until Monday morning, when state employees return to work. An additional challenge was that the carcass has become too tough to handle after being exposed to below-freezing temperatures, he said.
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“The whale’s too frozen,” Schoelkopf said. “We can’t even cut into the blubber, it’s too thick and frozen.”
Anyone visiting the area should stay clear, Schoelkopf said, because of possibility for diseases to be in the carcass.
Whale watching boats had spotted the whale alive earlier this year in Sandy Hook bay, where it had been photographed feeding, Schoelkopf said.
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In September, a different humpback whale was found dead off the Jersey Shore after being entangled. Another dead humpback whale was found floating off Cape May in November.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an “unusual mortality event” for humpback whales in 2017, after high numbers of whales were found dead from Maine to North Carolina. NOAA said the issue began in 2016 and continues to persist; the cause is still under investigation.