The second stranded humpback whale in so many weeks was found along the beach near Butlers Bluff. The Mirror contacted the Virginia Aquarium where testing is still being done to confirm the findings, according to Matt Klepeisz, the aquarium spokesman. “The whale was in an advanced stage of decomposition, so it may hinder efforts,” Klepeisz said. The Aquarium is leaning toward the conclusion the first whale, found on February 2nd was killed by a propeller strike, however pathology reports have yet to confirm this.
“We had a pretty strong suspicion last week based on the fact that there were four really large propeller chop wounds in it. But we had to get inside and look for the evidence that those wounds occurred when the animal was still alive, because dead animals do get run over after they die,” said Alex Costidis with the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center.
While whale deaths are somewhat uncommon in these waters, they are more frequent in the heavily traveled seas along the northeast seaboard.
A 2012 study, led by Julie van der Hoop of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, looked at 1,762 known deaths and likely fatal injuries from 1970 to 2009 among eight species of big whales. A cause of death had been determined in 750 of the cases (around 42 percent), and of those, nearly 67 percent of the fatalities were human related. Getting ensnared in fishing gear was the leading cause of death across all species, killing 323 whales, while vessel strikes took the lives of 171 more. Meanwhile, 248 whales died of causes not directly related to humans, such as an infection, stranding or natural causes.
Given that at least one of these deaths more than likely occurred via vessel impact, some have begun to question whether increased cargo traffic near the mouth of bay which is occurring as more vessels are having to anchor off Cape Charles, is having an impact on migratory species such as whales, which are moving south for mating season. NOAA has listed the mouth of the bay as watch area for whales during this time of year. The Mirror attempted to contact the USCG to find out whether shipping lanes have been, or will be changed for the southern portion of the Chesapeake Bay near Cape Charles and the CBBT to accommodate traffic to the anchorages off Cape Charles. The Mirror also inquired whether an impact study on the effects to migratory animals was done as part of the process. The USCG has not responded as of this publishing.