Endangered 26-Foot Right Whale Washed Up on Flagler County beach,

First Posted: Dec 21, 2012 06:38 PM EST

A rare North Atlantic right whale washed up dead on a beach in Flagler County and biologists are still investigating the cause of death.

A 26-foot male North Atlantic right whale, estimated to be between 8 months to 1 year old, washed ashore just north of Beverly Beach overnight Tuesday - the first time on record a right whale has appeared on a Flagler County beach. The animal was reported dead in the water Tuesday by a boater a couple miles offshore. 

"The boater reported it to Marine Resources Council, which was very important because it gave us a head start on getting prepared to work with the animal," said Barb Zoodsma, of NOAA Fishery Services, on site Wednesday. 

Federal officials consider right whales "critically endangered" because the population is estimated at about 400 animals. Experts believe the whales face a high risk of extinction, according to the Associated Press.

Troy Harper, Flagler County's emergency operations director, coordinated the response. He said scientists are in the process of conducting a necropsy of the whale, while the Florida Division of Environmental Protection has given authorization to bury the whale in place, "if feasible," Harper said. S.E. Cline Construction, the Palm Coast-based contractor, was hired to conduct the operation with heavy equipment. The burial should be completed around sundown, Harper said.

"My advice is stay off the beach and look them up on line because it's chaotic over there," Harper said, noting that several dozen scientists and other personnel are at the scene working, with construction on A1A only adding to mess. "So we really discourage folks to go down to the area of the beach specifically to look at the whale."

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