© Ryan Morrill
A 54-foot decomposing fin whale that washed up on Barnegat Light's 19th Street beach Sunday morning would be too large to be disposed of any other way than burying it, according to the director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center who was consulted after the whale washed up.

Bob Schoelkopf, director of the Brigantine-based stranding center, said a necropsy would not be performed. "The animal had been dead too long."

The definitive cause of the male whale's death was "hard to tell," Schoelkopf said, because "it had been dead for several days." The carcass showed "large shark bites."

"We think the animal may have been struck by a freighter, a large ship."

As to how the carcass would be removed, he said, "The town was apparently going to bring in a large piece of equipment ... to move the animal up on the beach and bury it." Schoelkopf had talked with Mayor Kirk Larson. "That is the best way to dispose of it; the animal is so big," Schoelkopf said.

Larson said Sunday afternoon that the borough has contracted for heavy equipment to arrive Monday morning to start undertaking the burial task.

"We have a machine coming tomorrow to try and move it into an area so we can bury it," Larson said.

He added that a 4-foot drop-off at the end of the beach would have to be smoothed level to make it easier to reach and move the whale.

The plan is to "bury it deep," farther from the surf, the mayor said. "The machine I have coming is pretty big. We were thinking of building a trench big enough that we could float it. We might have to get a bulldozer from Harvey Cedars or the township (Long Beach Township) to help roll it. We'll see how it goes."

Another dead whale that had washed ashore farther north in Barnegat Light last winter had been much smaller, a juvenile humpback. "Trying to move this one off the beach would be next to impossible without costing the town lots of money," Schoelkopf said.

Sunday morning, onlookers gathered and watched the carcass jostle about in the surf. Sheila Dean, co-director of the stranding center, warned online to stay away from the carcass, which could carry disease.

There was initially some speculation whether the U.S. Coast Guard would tow the hulk to sea, but Schoelkopf and Larson said that was not the plan.

"The Coast Guard can't do that anymore; the EPA (federal Environmental Protection Agency) has regulations now," Schoelkopf said, "that if the animal is towed out to sea you have to have a burial plan."

That can require listing how many tons of concrete and how much chain is used to wrap around the carcass, how deep it will be sunk, and other such data. In some cases farther north, disposal was managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but "even the Army Corps has to have permits in order to take it," the stranding center director summarized.

Larson also said that had been discussed, "but the Coast Guard said you can't leave it out there; it would wash up onto another beach."

Regarding the decision against dissecting to ascertain the cause of death, Schoelkopf added that the dead whale's bloated condition "would cause more of a problem to the township if we were to open the animal up and the smell got to be bad, not to mention polluting the beach."