Huge cargo hauled to Gorham in grim job

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Two Gorham businessmen teamed up Saturday to complete an unusual mission.

Eddie Benson of Benson Farm Earth Products in Gorham called Paul Smith, a Gorham contractor.

“I’ve got a job for you that you’ve never done before,” Smith said Benson told him.

Benson wanted a 90,000-pound, dead whale –  longer than a Gorham school bus – trucked to his farm, where his composting business is located. Smith shrugged off the task as merely a day in the life of a general contractor.

The story unfolded when Benson was contacted by Marine Mammals of Maine.

“Whenever a deceased whale washes up on shore anywhere on the Maine coast, they call us,” said Becki Benson, wife of Eddie Benson.

Marine Mammals of Maine,  a nonprofit, charitable organization, provides response, assistance and care to stranded marine animals in the southern and midcoast areas of Maine from Kittery to Rockland, according to its website. It has a stranding agreement with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Fisheries.

Lynda Doughty, biologist and executive director of Marine Mammals of Maine, said whale watchers spotted the dead whale on Friday floating in the water about 12 miles off Phippsburg. Doughty described the whale as an 11-year-old female and a Northern Atlantic right whale, the most endangered marine animal in the Northeast. She said there’s only 500 left.

The whale derives its name “right” from old whaling days when crews called it the right whale to harvest for its oil.

Doughty said two boats – one from Maine Marine Patrol and another from the Coast Guard – towed the whale to Portland, taking nine hours.

The Bensons have handled other whales, but none of this size. Smith, a Gorham Town Council candidate, drove his tractor-trailor that usually hauls heavy equipment, to Portland Yacht Co., where the whale was loaded.

Smith and his big rig arrived at about 7 p.m. Saturday at the waterfront. Becki Benson said a 100-ton boat-lift hoisted the huge whale onto Smith’s trailer. She said a few side rails had to be removed from the trailer so the whale would fit, and its fins extended over sides.

“It didn’t go on easy,” Smith said.

He said his trailer is 43 feet in length and the whale’s tail dangled out over the rear of the trailer. Its tail touched the ground. Smith estimated the whale was 46 feet long. For a comparison, the whale was longer than a 40-foot Gorham schoolbus.

The whale’s mouth was ensnarled in fishing gear. Smith said rope and a buoy were found in its mouth.

Ben Tuttle, a Gorham resident, assisted Benson and Smith during the venture. Tuttle praised  three yacht club employees – Kevin Boucher, Ray Stoddard and Mike Lacourse – for their skill in placing the whale aboard Smith’s trailer.

“They’re rock stars,” Tuttle said Tuesday, and called Benson and Smith legends in Gorham.

The loading process encompassed several hours, and the Gorham team with the whale headed to the farm at 2 a.m. Sunday, Becki Benson said.

Smith said cab drivers snapped photos as the big rig crawled along the route through Portland. Smith followed Eddie Benson, who led the way in a truck.  Acompanying Smith,  Tuttle stayed in contact by cellphone with Benson.

“I was riding shotgun with Paul,” Tuttle said. “It was an event.”

With flashers activated, they traveled from Commercial Street to Congress Street into Stroudwater and to William Clarke Drive in Westbrook.

The big load proceeded up Route 25 to Gorham before swinging off onto Route 237. Smith said a Gorham police officer was at Mosher’s Corner and followed the whale to the Benson Farm.

The trip took about an hour.

“I took it easy,” Smith said.

At the farm, Smith said, federal authorities did a medical examination called a necropsy.

The cause of death, Doughty said, was the entanglement, and NOAA is still investigating the incident.

“The whale did have significant weight loss,” Doughty said. “Her blubber layer was limited.”

Scientists took samples of the whale for research and the flesh was composted at the farm. Becki Benson said the remains are federally owned.

Doughty estimated costs associated with recovering the whale would exceed $5,000.

The tail of a dead whale overhangs the 43-foot trailer of Paul Smith, left, the Gorham general contractor who trucked the huge carcass from Portland to Benson’s Farm in Gorham late Saturday.

The big rig hauling a whale was spectacle on Congress Street in Portland about 2 a.m. Sunday.

The carcass of a 42-ton right whale lies on the ground at Benson Farm Earth Products in Gorham.

 

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