After spending days stuck in shallow waters off the coast of Long Island, a humpback whale grew sicker and thinner.
Veterinarians euthanized the 20-ton creature Wednesday afternoon in Moriches Bay as crowds gathered, some crying over the dying whale.
The whale had become “minimally responsive” and had signs of “neurological abnormalities and extensive skin injuries with evidence of infection.”
“Based upon these findings, the most humane option was to euthanize the whale since its chance of surviving in the wild was minimal,” according to a joint veterinary team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and private researchers.
The whale had been spotted feeding in Moriches Bay on November 13, according to the Riverhead Foundation, which was involved in assessing the creature. The whale eventually got stuck in Hart’s Cove, where the water is about one to two feet deep, according to NOAA. Attempts to free the whale off the sandbar and to create waves to help it swim away failed.
“The tidal conditions and other oceanic or biological factors that led to this stranding overtook any ability by our responders to rescue it,” said John Bullard, director of NOAA’s Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, in a statement.
But some residents who saw the ailing whale criticized NOAA and the Riverhead Foundation for not acting quickly enough. The whale’s body had protruded from the shallow water as seagulls pecked away at it. One resident told CNN affiliate WPIX that they could hear a “baby crying sound” from the whale during its ordeal.
“You go down there and your heart wrenches for this thing,” another resident told CNN affiliate News 12 Long Island.
Residents tried to hatch their own plan to free the humpback but were turned away by officials, the station reported.
Federal law requires people to stay at least 50 yards away from wild marine mammals including humpbacks. NOAA had urged the public not to interact with the whale in distress.
“Efforts to haul whales off beaches can cause more harm to the animal as strong pressure on the tail or flippers can result in internal injuries, and put people involved at risk,” it said in a statement.
Large whales get stranded when they’re sick or malnourished, according to NOAA. “Thus, refloating a large whale may not be in its best interest, as it is already sick.”
A necropsy will be performed on the whale.
This fall, humpback whales have been spotted several times in the New York Harbor, including one frolicking in the Hudson River.