FAIRHAVEN — A 23-foot minke whale was spotted floating dead in the New Bedford harbor late Sunday night. On Monday morning, the carcass was tugged to Union Wharf in Fairhaven, where it was hoisted onto a city flatbed truck to be delivered to researchers on Cape Cod.

A crew from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) was on scene Monday morning assisting New Bedford police, state environmental police and the Fairhaven harbormaster in the extraction. IFAW, a nonprofit animal research and rescue organization that is contracted by the city, said it will be conducting a necropsy near their facility in Yarmouth. 

The cause of death is still unclear. The minke whale was identified by IFAW as a “young adult” and a female. 

The whale was first spotted alive on Friday outside the hurricane barrier before it moved through to the inner harbor. Credit: Will Sennott / The New Bedford Light

“It’s not typically where you see these animals,” said Misty Niemeyer, stranding coordinator with IFAW, who was on scene at the extraction on Monday. “Right now, unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of information.” 

The whale was first spotted alive on Friday outside the hurricane barrier before it moved through to the inner harbor. Some responders speculated it could have chased a school of fish or followed a ship through the barrier. It was spotted sporadically through the weekend, surfacing on both the Fairhaven and New Bedford side of the harbor, according to videos shared with The Light. 

“It doesn’t happen all the time. But it does happen,” said Fairhaven Harbor Master Tim Cox. He pointed to the minke whale that was euthanized by IFAW in 2019 after it was stranded at Hoppy’s Landing in Fairhaven. In 2021, a pilot whale was stranded in Clarks Cove in New Bedford. 


On Sunday about 5 p.m., the carcass was spotted floating on the New Bedford side of the harbor by a tugboat crew docked at the Foss Marine Terminal. Responders, which included New Bedford animal control and the police department’s marine unit, secured the whale to a pier off the Foss Marine Terminal, which is being built into a staging area for the offshore wind industry.

Laws protecting marine mammals made the recovery cumbersome for responders. “Until NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] gets involved, we couldn’t do anything but keep it secured,” Cox said. 

YouTube video

The carcass remained tied up overnight at the terminal, formerly the NSTAR Power Plant, as responders waited for IFAW to arrive in New Bedford. On Monday morning, a New Bedford Police boat towed the carcass across the harbor to Union Wharf in Fairhaven. 

Responders first tried to use a city DPI truck outfitted with a small crane to hoist the whale out of the water. It proved to be too large, and responders had to call for a larger crane from Fairhaven company A1 Crane Co., Inc. The whale spanned the entire length of a city flatbed truck. 

There have been an elevated number of dead minke whales washing up on the East Coast since 2017. NOAA describes it as an “unusual mortality event.” Massachusetts accounts for 54 of the 148 minke whales that have been stranded on East Coast beaches since 2017. Most are found in the Northeast. 

Last month, two dead humpback whales washed up on the Martha’s Vineyard shoreline. They were discovered one week after construction began on Vineyard Wind, the first of more than a dozen offshore wind farms slated to begin development over the next few years. 

The deaths fueled speculation that there is a connection between increased offshore wind activity and whale deaths. NOAA and IFAW did not conduct a necropsy on those whales. Similar to Minke Whales, NOAA said humpback whales are also experiencing an “unusual mortality event.”

NOAA could not be reached for comment on Monday. A spokesperson for IFAW said they are under-staffed due to it being the week of Independence Day. 

Email Will Sennott at wsennott@newbedfordlight.org.

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  1. There’s no doubt that the sonar used for the bottom mapping and constuction of offshore wind generators is harmful to marine mammals that use echo-location to navigate / travel. The transducers put out super-strong harmful sonar waves that can destroy the whales’ “melons” located in their foreheads that send out and receive their own sonar clicks for echo location. This causes the animal to lose their senses for navigation that results in beaching and eventual death. I would imagine it would be very painful to the animal as well. It would be similar to a human being very close to a major explosion, destroying their hearing and balance. It’s very suspicious that there was no necropsy performed on the two whales found washed up on Martha’s vinyard last week, a mere stones throw from the installation site of the first wind mills right off the Vineyard.
    Therer’s too much money at stake now for the companies involved and government to cease operations due to whale deaths. The past year has seen record numbers of great whale deaths from New Jersey to Massachusetts, states all currently active in offshore wind installations. These entities blame commercial fishing for the deaths even when there are no signs of entanglement. FOLLOW THE MONEY to find out what’s killing thes endangered animals.

  2. Wind Generators to me are a waste of money! It’s just something to spend money on, we never needed all of these things before so why now? If our ecosystem is ruined anymore it wont matter what we need because Mankind will have died out!!

    1. That’s the point. If we keep using fossil fuels we will, in fact, die out. Wind is an obvious untapped source of energy. I do wish they would be more transparent about the effect on whales and dolphins. We may just need to build wind farms onshore, and that would be a workable solution.

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