Norton Point is now open for swimmers and vehicle traffic Wednesday after a dead fin whale was towed miles out to sea.

Fin whale was to be towed about 10 miles out to sea. — Jane Varkonda

On Wednesday visitors were advised to swim at their own risk at Norton Point because of bacteria in the water from the badly decomposed whale, which washed up in the surf at South Beach on Monday morning as Fourth of July beachgoers started to arrive for one of the busiest days of the year. Edgartown officials cordoned off a section of beach surrounding the whale and warned visitors that the whale could pose a public health hazard or attract sharks.

By Tuesday the whale had migrated about 200 yards eastward to Norton Point, the barrier beach managed by The Trustees of Reservations. The organization’s Vineyard superintendent Chris Kennedy said Tuesday evening that the whale appeared to have broken into two sections, which could complicate removal efforts. At the time, it was unclear if the whale could be towed away or would have to be buried.

On Wednesday morning an excavator from Handy Trucking was on hand as personnel from the town and The Trustees met on the beach at about 8 a.m., Edgartown conservation agent Jane Varkonda said. The whale came off the beach in one piece, towed away by Donald Benefit's fishing boat Payback, and was off the beach by 9:30 a.m.

“It was sweet,” Ms. Varkonda said. “It couldn't have worked any better.”

Fin whale washed up on South Beach Monday morning; it moved to Norton Point. — Ray Ewing

Harbor master Charlie Blair did yeoman's work, she said, tying the rope around the whale's jawbone. The excavator pushed the whale off the beach while the boat towed it away.

The whale will be towed about 10 miles out to sea, she said.

“It is gone, and the smell is gone,” Mr. Kennedy said. “It was not a comfortbale couple days for anyone on the beach.”

According to NOAA, the whale was also seen floating off the coast about two weeks ago. — Ray Ewing

On Tuesday, Mr. Kennedy and town officials said Norton Point Beach would be closed Wednesday; at the time, they were unsure how the whale would be removed and how long it would take. The beach has reopened, but water quality concerns linger.

Mr. Kennedy said water samples showed a fairly high level of bacteria just over the acceptable limit. Swimmers are advised to do so at their own risk, he said, and new water samples are being taken today.

Water samples taken at South Beach from the left fork to the right fork were fine, the town of Edgartown said.

The relatively swift removal Wednesday put to an end two days of removal planning and efforts.

Site attracted onlookers; town cordoned off area for public safety. — Ray Ewing

There was an attempt Tuesday to tow the whale away, but the seas were rough and fog descended just as the boat was in position, Mr. Kennedy said.

The work combined with public health concerns brought about the beach closure Wednesday, he said. The board of health voiced concerns that the dead whale was a public health hazard and took water samples in the area on Tuesday.

“And if we do have to pull it out of the surf and dig a burial pit for it, it would be virtually impossible if people are setting up all around with beach blankets and such,” Mr. Kennedy said Tuesday.

New England Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said that public health is a main concern when it comes to beached whales. “It’s prudent to be careful around that,” he said, adding that the whale could have “a host of bacteria” and it is wise to be cautious.

NOAA officials said the whale was too decomposed for a necropsy. — Ray Ewing

Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary director Suzan Bellincampi echoed that caution, saying people and their dogs should steer clear of the whale to avoid zoonotic diseases (diseases that can spread between animals and humans).

The whale was identified Tuesday as a fin whale that had previously been seen floating off the coast a few weeks ago, NOAA Fisheries spokesman Jennifer Goebel told the Gazette Tuesday. She said NOAA had not received official photos of the whale and had no further information about where the whale had been seen before, its age or sex, or manner of death. A necropsy will not be done because the whale is too decomposed, she said.

Fin whales, also called finback or razorback whales, are commonly found in New England waters, where they feed on krill, schooling fishes, and squid. They are the second largest whale species and can grow to be 80 feet long and weigh up to 80 tons. They can live to be 90 years old.

The species is listed as endangered at the state and federal level, and threats to fin whales include collisions with vessels, habitat degradation, entanglement in fishing gear, reduced prey abundance, and disturbance from low-frequency noise, according to NOAA.

Ms. Goebel said when whales are beached or too decomposed to be towed further out to sea they are sometimes taken to landfills. In the case of a humpback whale that stranded a few weeks ago in Rye, N.H., the meat was taken off the whale and taken to a composting facility to be used as garden compost.

The town of Edgartown and Trustees are operating a Norton Point beach information line at 774-310-1110, which is updated with beach opening and closing information.