By DONALD WITTKOWSKI and MADDY VITALE
The badly decomposed remains of a pygmy sperm whale, possibly dead for months, washed ashore Friday on the 49th Street beach in Ocean City.
The nearly 9-foot whale was little more than “a skeleton with some skin on it,” said Sheila Dean, executive director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.
“It was so badly decomposed you could hardly tell what it is,” Dean said in an interview Saturday. “This animal has been dead for a long time.”
Ocean City officials buried the whale in the beach at the direction of the stranding center.
Because of the advanced level of decomposition, no necropsy of the whale’s remains will be done to determine the cause of death, Dean said.
The dead whale was originally spotted on a beach in Strathmere and then washed back out to the ocean before coming ashore in Ocean City, Dean said.
Since December, at least 29 dead whales – including nine in New Jersey – have washed up along the East Coast.
Dolphins have also been washing up on the Jersey Shore, including eight in Sea Isle City on March 21.
Two of the dolphins in Sea Isle died almost immediately on the 51st Street beach, while six others stranded on the beach at 52nd Street were later euthanized by a veterinarian from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center after their condition deteriorated.
The flurry of mostly humpback whale and dolphin deaths has raised suspicions that sonar mapping of the seabed for a series of proposed offshore wind energy farms may be confusing the mammals and causing their deaths.
Dean stressed that the death of the decomposed pygmy whale is unrelated to the humpback whale and dolphin deaths.
“This animal has nothing to do with that,” she said.
Dean noted that dead mammals washing up, like the pygmy sperm whale, are a “common occurrence.” She said that the stranding center responds to about 150 mammal strandings each year.
However, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew and other critics of offshore wind farms say the dolphin and whale deaths underscore the need for an investigation to find out whether wind farm activity could be killing the mammals.
Van Drew, whose congressional district includes the shore towns of Atlantic and Cape May counties, is demanding a moratorium on any wind farm projects on the East Coast until an investigation is done.
“The numbers of deaths we are witnessing are staggering, and the concentration of where the animals have washed up raises serious and legitimate questions as to what role offshore wind surveying may be doing to the hearing of these mammals,” he said in a statement March 22.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Marine Mammal Stranding Center are among the government agencies or organizations that dispute any connection between the wind farms and the dead whales.
“As of March 2023, no offshore wind-related construction activities have taken place in waters off the New Jersey coast, and DEP is aware of no credible evidence that offshore wind-related survey activities could cause whale mortality,” the DEP said in a statement.
NOAA and the Marine Mammal Stranding Center have concluded that most of the humpback whale deaths were caused by vessel strikes after examining the carcasses and finding the types of injuries consistent with collisions with ships.