A dead whale is towed off Old Orchard Beach after drawing a crowd.
© Lyndi Cote
A dead whale is towed off Old Orchard Beach after drawing a crowd.
The smelly carcass, identified as that of an adult male minke whale, is the second large marine animal to turn up on shore in southern Maine in the past week.

A badly decomposed whale that washed up on Old Orchard Beach drew gasps and groans from beach walkers venturing out in the rain on Sunday.

The carcass - later identified as that of a minke whale - washed ashore about a mile south of Old Orchard Beach pier, just as Lyndi Cote, wrapped in a blanket, was sipping coffee on her balcony at the Gold Sands Condominiums.

Cote said at first she thought it was a capsized boat, but when the 23-foot-long object landed on the sand, it was clear it was some sort of marine animal.

It was the second large ocean creature to wash up on southern Maine shores in the past week. On Thursday, a badly decomposed 500- to 600-pound, 15-foot basking shark washed up on Higgins Beach in Scarborough. That odoriferous carcass was removed by the Scarborough Public Works Department using heavy equipment and buried in a landfill.

"I looked out at 10:15 a.m. and saw something tumbling over and over" in the surf, said Cote, a third-grade teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Cote said she called police to report the landing Sunday and grabbed her little dog and headed out to the beach, where she was joined by her brother, Neil Cote, a part-time copy editor at the Portland Press Herald who photographed the stomach-turning sight.

"I feel bad for it. I am glad it is not suffering anymore," Lyndi Cote said.

The whale's intestines were exposed and it looked like it had been fed on by sharks.

"The smell is horrendous," said Neil Cote.

Lyndi Cote said she was too horrified to get close to the whale, but the photographs her brother took would be a big hit with her third-graders.

"They are going to be fascinated," she said.

By Sunday afternoon, an Old Orchard Beach police officer was on the scene where a small crowd had gathered.

Lynda Doughty, director of Marine Mammals of Maine, a Bath organization that rescues and researches marine mammals and sea turtles, examined the carcass Sunday and identified it as an adult male minke whale, which had been fed on by sharks and birds. Minke whales, which are baleen whales, have been experiencing high mortality rates for the past couple of years, but no one knows why, she said.

Doughty said dead marine life sightings are not uncommon.

She said the dead whale had been spotted Wednesday in Casco Bay off Eagle Island, along with another dead basking shark that was not the one that washed up on Higgins Beach. Easterly winds and marine conditions caused the whale to wash ashore, Doughty said. She said those same conditions were probably responsible for the Higgins Beach shark landing.

Doughty said a dead juvenile minke was reported floating off Kittery on July 7. That whale has not washed ashore.

She said she took tissue samples from the adult male when it was floating in Casco Bay, and again on Sunday at Old Orchard Beach. The samples will be analyzed to try to determine the cause of death, she said.

Meanwhile, Doughty is working with Old Orchard Beach to remove the carcass, which will have to wait until Monday because no heavy equipment was available Sunday to do the job.