Humpback whale washes ashore near Oregon Inlet

A dead humpback whale washed up in the surf near Oregon Inlet Tuesday afternoon, a day after being spotted floating in the ocean near Nags Head.

The incident was one of six whale strandings so far this year on Outer Banks beaches, according to a list kept by the OBX Marine Mammal Stranding Network. The others, in Nags Head, Avon, Frisco and Buxton, were dwarf or pygmy sperm whales. Humpback whales, particularly juveniles, migrate along the North Carolina coast in winter.

Strandings, defined as the beaching of a live or dead marine mammal, are not uncommon along North Carolina beaches. In fact, North Carolina experiences the highest number of strandings per unit length of beach along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the MMSN reports.

The dead whale had been spotted floating in the ocean in Nags Head a day before washing ashore near Oregon Inlet.

“We also experience the highest species diversity of marine mammals along the Atlantic coast,” the group says on its website. “All but two species, known to occur in the North Atlantic, have stranded on North Carolina beaches. Marine mammal strandings are, thus, common events in our coastal environment.”

The reasons for marine mammal strandings vary, from disease to parasites to environmental injuries and weather events. Many times, a cause is never identified.

All marine mammals are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, according to the MMSN.

Only local, state, and federal officials and people authorized by the NOAA Fisheries Service may legally handle live and dead marine mammals. Under the MMPA, NOAA Fisheries Service is responsible for conserving dolphins, whales and seals in the United States and up to 200 miles offshore.