Another tragic turn was taken on Saturday by the plight of endangered right whales, when a baby whale, probably two months old, washed dead ashore on a Florida beach with telltale signs of a boat being hit.
Baby whale found dead
According to federal scientists who voiced dismay at Saturday’s discovery of the 22-foot (7-meter) male baby at Anastasia State Park near St. Augustine, there are less than 400 North Atlantic right whales alive, and any mortality of the population is a significant drawback to saving the creatures from extinction.
“This is a very sad event,” said Blair Mase, the National Oceanic, and Atmospheric Administration’s whale specialist.
“Any death that occurs has a devastating effect on the population as a whole because they are one of the world’s most critically endangered whales,” she said. “It counts every whale.”
The baby whale is thought to be the firstborn of a 19-year-old whale called “Infinity” by biologists. Both were sighted on Jan. 17 off Amelia Island in northern Florida.
The conditions behind the death of the whale remain under investigation. But federal authorities said it was apparent that there was a marine vessel involved. Propeller cuts to the head and back were sustained by the whale.
Inclement weather prevented scientists from quickly initiating a search for the calf’s mother to see if the collision with the boat might also have injured her.
This was the second death of calves since the calving season. On one of the barrier islands in North Carolina, another calf was found dead in November.
Right whales migrate south from the frigid northern Atlantic from November to April to give birth in warmer waters off Florida’s north coast.
The whales spend those months cruising through waters off the coast, often arriving from beaches within a few hundred miles, leaving them prone to boaters and fishing boats approaching and departing piers.
Mase said some 40 right whales, with 15 pairs of mothers and their calves, were sighted off the United States’ southeast coast.
Federal laws prohibit animals from being abused by humans. And humans are meant to sit at least 460 meters (500 yards) away from the whales.
“Please give these animals space if you’re in this area,” said Allison Garrett, an NOAA spokesperson. The rule is 500 yards, which is five fields of football. That involves people, cars, drones, paddleboards, all of it. This is the law.’
To help monitor their population, Garrett encouraged individuals who come across one of the unusual whales to report the sighting to officials at (877) 942-5343.
North Atlantic right whale
(Photo : NOAA Gray’s Reef NMS on Wikimedia Commons)
North Atlantic right whale as part of NOAA’s Earth Is Blue series.
Spotting the white calluses on its head, which are very visible against the whale’s dark gray body, is the best way to quickly identify the North Atlantic right whale. Without a dorsal fin, it has a broad back and a long, arching mouth that starts above the eye.
Right whales are Baleen whales. They fed on copepods (tiny crustaceans) by straining large quantities of ocean water through their baleen shells, which work like a sieve. The baleen whale, with his mouth open and his head just above the surface, feeds by swimming through a swarm of plankton. In coastal waters, right whales are more frequently seen, particularly during the breeding season.
Since 1970, North Atlantic right whales have been listed under the Endangered Species Act as endangered. There are fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales, with fewer than 100 breeding females remaining. In recent years, the number of new calves born has been below average.
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