A humpback whale with a tongue swollen to the size of a small car has been found on the rocky shores of Admiralty Island in southeast Alaska.

©National Geographic

Scientists believe that a collision forced air into the male humpback's tongue and caused it to swell. A ship could be responsible for the death of the 40-foot (12-meter) whale, which was found last week.

"It is certainly possible that it was a ship strike, but that's still inconclusive," Aleria Jensen, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Alaska, told the Associated Press.

There have been about 60 collisions between ships and large whales in Alaska since the 1970s. But the humpback population, which is currently estimated at 10,000, is growing at an annual rate of 7 percent. As the whale population grows, collisions will become more common, researchers believe.

Scientists preformed a necropsy Friday and plan to analyze samples of the animal's skin, blubber, stomach contents, and various other tissues. The study could take several weeks to complete, Jensen said.

"There's never any guarantee that we can find the cause of death, but that's always our goal," she said.