Frozen whale on LBI challenge to remove from beach

Authorities and marine mammal rescuers are trying to figure out how to get a 15-ton, frozen-solid dead whale off a New Jersey beach.

The 31-foot male humpback whale washed ashore near the inlet in Barnegat Light on Christmas day.

Bon Schoelkopf, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, said its cause of death was unknown, but there were no obvious physical signs of injury on the parts of it that are visible.

Because the animal has been exposed to freezing temperatures for an extended period, it cannot be cut up and removed piecemeal, which is the usual way large whales are disposed of in similar situations. That was the way the stranding center removed a large whale that washed ashore in Toms River in April 2017 when temperatures were warmer.

"It's frozen solid," Schoelkopf said. "There's not much we can do. Cutting into a frozen whale like that isn't going to be easy."

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Schoelkopf said his team is looking for an off-site location to move to whale, so that a necropsy can be done to determine its cause of death before the remains are buried somewhere.

There are two front-end loaders on the beach that will be used to try to remove the whale.

"It has to be moved whole," he said.

The whale is located just off the rock jetty of the Barnegat Inlet at Barnegat Light State Park, where one of the Jersey Shore's iconic lighthouses is located.

Whale watching boats had spotted the whale alive earlier this year in Sandy Hook Bay, where it had been photographed feeding, Schoelkopf said.

In September, a different humpback whale was found dead off the Jersey Shore after being entangled.

Another dead humpback whale was found floating off Cape May in November.

Schoelkopf said it was unlikely any work related to the whale would be done until Monday morning, when state employees return to work. An additional challenge was that the carcass has become too tough to handle after being exposed to below-freezing temperatures, he said.

"The whale’s too frozen," Schoelkopf said. "We can’t even cut into the blubber, it’s too thick and frozen."

Anyone visiting the area should stay clear, Schoelkopf said, because of possibility for diseases to be in the carcass.