A humpback whale calf found beached Friday on a Glacier Bay island died from injuries consistent with being hit by a vessel, a veterinarian determined.
Dr. Frances Gulland, from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., conducted the six-hour post-mortem investigation Sunday on the Strawberry Island beach where the animal was discovered.
She determined the animal had a severe dislocation of six ribs on its right side, causing massive bleeding and tissue damage near its lung and eventually leading to its death, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve officials said.
Humpback whales are protected by the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and park regulations.
The 28-foot whale, believed to have been less than 12 months old and still nursing from its mother, could have been struck by a vessel, according to the report. Stomach and intestinal contents indicate the injury occurred Thursday, and the animal was alive when it was beached. It was only hours dead when it was observed Friday morning by people aboard a day tour boat from the park.
In July 2001, a pregnant humpback whale was found floating at the mouth of Glacier Bay. The examination determined it died of head injuries consistent with being struck by a large vessel.
The 2001 humpback death was turned over to the U.S. Attorney's office in Anchorage for possible prosecution. Glacier Bay officials said in a news release Monday that a possible case remains pending. The U.S. Attorney's office did not return a phone call from the Juneau Empire on Monday.
Park Superintendent Tomie Lee and Chief Ranger Chuck Young reported that it was unknown what hit the whale calf found Friday, or if the injuries occurred within park boundaries.
National Park Service officials are seeking information on what may have caused the whale's injuries to prevent future harm to other humpbacks.
Anyone with information is asked to call the chief ranger's office at (907) 697-2621.
Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.