Whale, This is Awkward

Was it a nor’easter that came through last Friday or Whalenado? After the floodwaters receded late Friday morning on December 23, there were some surprising souvenirs left behind. Whale meat in the street. Yes, you read that right.

Station Liquors on Beach 116th Street had an early, smelly Christmas gift left at their front door on Friday as a large rectangular slab of something was laying outside. Some speculated it was construction material, possibly insulation foam. But closer inspection of the item led to another conclusion. Upon seeing the heavy, bloody, cold slab, a firefighter on the block called it. “That’s whale,” the passerby said. The Rockaway Times went to investigate and confirm. After checking out the piece on Beach 116th Street and leaving the scene, turning on to Rockaway Beach Boulevard, another surprise—there was more. A thicker chunk was laying in the middle of the Boulevard near Beach 117th Street. And later in the afternoon, readers sent us photos of yet another piece, at the entrance to the BP gas station on Beach Channel Drive and 115th Street.

In one of those “Only in Rockaway” incidents, a big question remained…how?

It is believed the whale pieces were parts of the young female sperm whale that had washed up and then died on Beach 74th Street ten days earlier on Tuesday, December 13. On Wednesday, December 14, the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMSEAS) had responded to the scene where their biologists performed a necropsy on site to determine a cause of death for the whale. During the process, the biologists made careful, clean cuts of the whale blubber to access the internal organs.

According to NYC Parks, the remains of the whale were not buried until Thursday, December 22. “We believe this may be material from the deceased whale,” an NYC Parks spokesperson said when asked about the street meat. How, exactly, it wound up on the street two miles away, remains somewhat of a mystery. “We do not know how this material migrated to the street, as we did not observe debris indicative of sand erosion / flooding in the immediate vicinity (sand, seaweed, drift twigs, etc.),” NYC Parks said.

The New York State Department of Conservation said proper protocols were taken when disposing the whale on site, so the pieces couldn’t have fallen off a vehicle. “The whale carcass was buried onsite at the beach last week by the Sanitation Department (DSNY) following proper protocols for disposal of remains in situation like this. Remains were not taken to the landfill,” a NYSDEC spokesperson said.

But there is a possibility that Mother Nature delivered the whale blubber. “During the necropsy performed by AMSEAS, parts of blubber, skin, and entrails were cut off and left on the beach,” NYSDEC said. “Some of these parts were scattered as a result of two weather systems which caused high surf, gale force winds, and flooding events. Additional scattering potentially occurred by the storm events and force of the storm waters.”

The street meat has since been removed. As for the whale, how it died is still a mystery. “Initial necropsy results were inconclusive for cause of death,” NYSDEC said. Further results could take a few weeks.

Photos by Katie McFadden.

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