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Humpback whale found dead in Southeast Alaska likely hit by a ship, officials say

A NOAA Fisheries marine mammal team conducts a necropsy on a male humpback at Point Young, Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska on Saturday, June 2, 2018. (Margaret Sherman / NOAA Fisheries)

A humpback whale found dead in Southeast Alaska was likely hit by a ship, an official said on Monday.

A preliminary necropsy determined that the male humpback whale, found on Admiralty Island, had signs of hemorrhaging and bruising and a fractured skull, said Julie Speegle, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesperson.

"That indicates trauma, and the source of that trauma was likely a vessel strike," Speegle said.

The beached male humpback whale carcass was first reported to NOAA on Sunday, May 27, Speegle said, but crews couldn't locate it at first.

On Sunday, June 2, NOAA crews were able to reach the whale on Admiralty Island and do a preliminary necropsy, Speegle said.

NOAA Fisheries biologist Alicia Bishop prepares to make an incision on a humpback carcass as part of the necropsy performed at Point Young, Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska on Saturday, June 2, 2018. (Margaret Sherman / NOAA Fisheries)

Scientists believe the whale died sometime between May 20 and 27.

The humpback whale was nearly 39 feet long and likely less than 5 years old, as it had not yet reached sexual maturity, Speegle said.

Typically, every year a few whales die that have evidence of blunt force trauma indicative of a ship strike, Speegle said.

Now, NOAA will wait for lab results to come back in about six months. At that point, scientists will know whether the whale was indeed hit by a ship, if the whale was hit before or after it was deceased and what the animal's general health was before its death.

NOAA law enforcement officers were looking into records of vessels that may have been in the area and were large enough to cause such damage in the week before the whale was found dead, Speegle said. No ships reporting hitting a whale, she said.

Anyone who sees marine mammals in distress is asked to call NOAA Fisheries Alaska 24-hour stranding hotline at 877-925-7773.

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