Storm-tossed whale search draws a blank

BAR HARBOR — A daylong search for a floating whale carcass near Mount Desert Rock came up empty last week despite the efforts of College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale, Bar Harbor Whale Watch, the Marine Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Crews spent a stormy day at sea last Monday hunting for the whale after an anonymous report filed the previous Friday, according to Jennifer Goebel, public affairs officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The search was delayed until Monday because of the weekend weather forecast.

The original report, Goebel said, gave responders “a rough location of the original sighting,” and a drift analysis suggested where the carcass might have gone over the weekend.

A drift analysis, said Kate Swails, a marine mammal policy analyst with the NOAA Fisheries Service in Gloucester, “provides us with a range where the carcass may be potentially re-sighted based on where it was last seen, and the winds and currents.”

If the whale had been found, researchers hoped to find out how the whale died.

“The plan was to tow it back to shore for a necropsy if in good enough condition,” Goebel said. If the body were too decomposed to travel, it would be studied at sea.

The search effort included two boats and two survey planes. The Marine Patrol sent the patrol boat Dirigo and one of the planes. The other plane was from the Coast Guard.

“Our team at Allied Whale searched the area on the Bar Harbor Whale Watch’s vessel Friendship V for seven and a half hours, despite rough sea conditions,” said Lindsey Jones, stranding coordinator for Allied Whale. “The strong winds and seas could have pushed the carcass far offshore, unfortunately.”

The airplanes ran transects, searching for the whale over large areas, while the ships scoured the surface.

“The plane is indispensible in any search,” Department of Marine Resources spokesman Jeff Nichols said. “Planes have a vantage point that you don’t get when you’re at water level.”

Nichols said the Dirigo was in communication with the plane while searching a couple miles southwest of Mount Desert Rock for about six hours.

“It was quite an effort,” said Zack Klyver of the whale watch, who was on the Friendship V. “Lindsey Jones needs a hero award from NOAA for all the effort.”

Weather conditions prevented any further search for the whale, whose species was not determined.

Nichols agreed that the search would not likely continue as a “directed” event, but DMR is regularly patrolling the waters. “If [the whale] turns up in routine patrols, we would report that and take action accordingly.”

Becky Pritchard covers the town of Bar Harbor, where she lives with her family and intrepid news-dog Joe-Joe. She worked six seasons as a park ranger in Acadia, and still enjoys spending her spare time there.

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