BARNEGAT LIGHTHOUSE — It's unclear what will happen next to a dead whale that's washed up on Long Beach Island — the third or fourth to do so at the Jersey Shore this year.

And it's not clear yet what killed the whale, a juvenile found on Christmas morning. All of those answers will wait until at least Monday.

In the meantime, Marine Mammal Stranding Center executive director Bob Schoelkopf said, the state has positioned law enforcement officers around the whale, "to keep people from disturbing it, taking selfies with their kids."

"We don't know why someone would want to take a selfie with a dead whale, but they do," he said.

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Specifically, it's a dead, frozen, juvenile whale. Schoelkopf's hoping temperatures will warm enough Monday that his team can take a sample for analysis, and possibly determine a cause of death. A look at the whale's stomach content might give an indication as to how it died.

The whale, which has previously been sighted in the New York Harbor, is smaller than it should be, which could indicate an illness, he said. The National Marine Fishery Service, which will take the center's report, will also want to know if pollution played a role in the death. A DNA test will help determine where it came from.

The cause may have been a clash with a boat propeller, too, Schoelkopf said. In any case, he estimated the whale has been dead for about a week.

Story continues below photos.

Abby Grayson of Manahawkin was headed to the beach Saturday when she saw a friend had posted online about the whale, and went to check it out.

The "general tenor" of the scene, she said, was one of amazement and sorrow.

"The officers said it was a juvenile, which made my kids extra sad!" she wrote to New Jersey 101.5.

She wrote people had flocked to see the whale, but officers kept them from touching or interfering with it.

"People were respectful, just getting close and looking at it and marveling at its size and beauty," she wrote.

She described the scene as "sad but educational."

"(I) never would have thought I'd see anything like that so up close and personal," she wrote.

Nicole Crisp of New Hope, Pennsylvania told New Jersey 101.5 in an email the experience of seeing the whale Saturday was "surreal."

"It was so sad to see this beautiful creature beached by the jetty, however it was amazing to be so close to such a beautiful mammal," she wrote.

Schoelkopf said state officials will have to determine what happens with the whale's body, since it's on their property. It might be buried in place, moved for burial elsewhere or moved to Dumpsters for disposal.

Another whale discovered months ago in an inlet between Sea Isle City and Avalon is continuing to decompose in place.

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