Whale researchers on the East Coast were both saddened and excited by news that a young blue whale had been transported into Rhode Island waters on the bow of a ship returning from sea in March. It is unclear whether the 40-ton, 60-foot-long juvenile male was killed by impact with the ship’s bulbous bow or was already dead and floating on the surface when it was hit by the 500-foot merchant ship. The whale was spotted when the Narragansett Bay pilot came aboard. The ship backed down and the whale floated off the bow bulb.
The bloated and rotting carcass drifted in the bay for nearly a week before being identified and towed into shore. The carcass was towed to a beach in Middletown, R.I., by the Coast Guard on March 7 after a biologist identified the animal as a blue whale. It was initially believed to be a fin whale, a more common species.
As the largest animals ever to exist on earththe whales can grow to 110 feet when fully grownblue whales are also exceedingly rare, having been hunted to near extinction over the last century. Only 300 are believed to survive in the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, cetacean specialists and museums have been dividing the massive carcass for research and display purposes. The 60-foot skeleton was claimed by the Smithsonian since no full skeleton of a blue whale exists.