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Dead humpback's 311-pound flipper to be displayed at NC park

Humpbacks can reach 40 tons and 60 feet, and live as long as 90 years, experts say.
Credit: NPS
A single front flipper was detached from the whale for use in an exhibit. Karen Altman, (NPS biologist) lay down next to the flipper to provide a size comparison. The flipper is around 13 feet long.

CARTERET COUNTY, N.C. — For the second time in a month, an endangered humpback whale has been found dead on one of North Carolina’s barrier islands.

In this instance, however, parts were saved for permanent display.

The latest discovery involved a 31-foot female found Dec. 28 on North Core Banks, inside Cape Lookout National Seashore, according to a Jan. 10 news release.

A cause of death has not been released, but a necropsy was performed and samples were collected, officials said.

In an unusual step, Cape Lookout National Seashore was given permission to take parts of the humpback for public display, park officials said.

“A NC Marine Mammal Stranding Network ... team assisted the park in collecting one of the whale’s front flippers and a 4-foot-long section of baleen from the whale’s mouth,” the park reported.

The sections will “be processed and eventually used in an exhibit at the Harkers Island Visitor Center.”

Photos shared by the park on Facebook show the flipper was longer than the park biologists sent to inspect it. The flipper measured at “around 13 feet” and 311 pounds, officials said.

At Cape Hatteras National Seashore, just north of Cape Lookout, a 30-foot humpback was found beached Dec. 5 on Hatteras Island. A necropsy was also performed on that whale, but no cause of death has been reported.

All species of humpbacks are listed as endangered in U.S. waters, NOAA Fisheries says. The most common causes of fatalities are fishing gear entanglement and being struck by vessels, experts say.

Humpbacks can reach 40 tons and 60 feet, and live as long as 90 years, experts say.

Because large whales take a long time to decompose, the National Park Service typically buries them when researchers are done collecting samples, McClatchy News reports.

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