LONG BRANCH — The search is on for a dead North American right whale that had been spotted Thursday afternoon floating off the Jersey coast.

The carcass of the whale, one of only 400 of the species remaining, was spotted and photographed by an aerial survey team from the Center for Coastal Studies about 5 miles east of the Elberon section of Long Branch, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

But when a member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center went out with the Coast Guard on Friday morning, they couldn't find it.

"It's somewhere out there but no one knows where it is at this point. It could be near New York or the north end of New Jersey. We don't know yet. But no one has spotted it yet as of 10 a.m. Friday when they had an aerial survey up," Marine Mammal Stranding Center Director Bob Schoelkopf told New Jersey 101.5.

A cause of death won't be known until the necropsy is performed but Shoelkopf said photos showed some propeller cuts indicating it may have been struck by a ship.

North American right whales weigh 70 tons and the one found off the shore was an estimated 40 feet in length, according to Schoelkopf.

"The wind could carry them like a sail because once they bloat up with gases they float high and the wind could catch it and carry it out to sea or hit shore anyplace," Schoelkopf said.

A number of whales have been sighted off the coast of New Jersey during the spring because of the availability of food.

Earlier this month, a whale came down on a boat in Seaside Park, capsizing it and launching two fishermen into the water. The whale was lunge feeding. So as it came up, getting a large mouthful of water and fish, it leapt into the air, then came crashing down on the boat.

The NOAA asked anyone spotting a sick, injured, stranded or dead marine mammals to call the Mammal Stranding Center at 609-266-0538.

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