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Whale that had been shot washes ashore, dies in New Jersey

October 4, 2011 | 12:36 pm

Whale shooting 
Wildlife officials are searching for the person who shot a young whale, causing the nearly 11-foot animal to die slowly after a resulting jaw infection left it unable to eat.

The short-finned male pilot whale washed up on the New Jersey shore on Sept. 24. It was still alive but died shortly afterward, and it was several days before the cause of death was determined.

That's because the bullet wound had closed, a sign the whale had been shot several weeks earlier. By the time the whale washed onto the beach, it weighed about 740 pounds, even though a whale of that size should weigh more than 1,000 pounds. A necropsy found a bullet lodged in the whale's jaw.

"It literally died of starvation. It probably traveled quite a distance before it became so weak that it washed ashore," Bob Schoelkopf, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in New Jersey, told the Star-Ledger newspaper of New Jersey. 

Scott Doyle of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which was notified of the whale's existence after it was found on the beach, told the newspaper that it's not unusual to have "two or three" shootings of dolphins and seals each year, but in 25 years on the job he had never encountered a shot whale. He said the bullet had been sent to a lab in Seattle for ballistic tests.

According to an Associated Press report, Schoelkopf said authorities believe the bullet came from a .30-caliber rifle. He speculated that someone on a fishing boat used the whale for target practice when fishing was slow. Shark fishermen often carry guns on their boats to shoot sharks before dragging them on board.

Authorities are hoping that whoever was with the shooter comes forward with information leading to the culprit. If caught, the person could face a penalty of up to $100,000 or a year in prison, under a 1972 law that protects most marine mammals from being "harassed, hunted, captured, killed or collected."

-- Tina Susman in New York


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Photo: A pilot whale is removed from a New Jersey beach after washing ashore and dying from a bullet wound. Credit: Marine Mammal Stranding Center / Associated Press